Chinese Copper Mine in Myanmar Expands With Land Grab

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Chinese mining firm Wanbao, which is operating copper mines in Salingyi Township, Sagaing Region, has seized neighboring farmland.

The company has fenced-off farms in old Wethmay village to the east of the mining compound.

The village is inside the Letpadaung mining area originally proposed by the company but farmers refused to move or accept compensation from Wanbao.

Bo Sitt Naing, a leader of a resistance force in Salingyi, told The Irrawaddy: “Wanbao has so far fenced off land from its electricity office to Tone Alel village through Old Wethmay village. It originally planned to fence off those places but there were disputes with residents. Some riots stopped expansion but now it seems the company might fence off all the four villages.”

The company has designated Wethmay, Sete, Zeetaw and Kantaw villages as part of the Letpadaung copper mine. Residents were offered compensation for their land. But some 30 households in Wethmay village refused to accept compensation and have continued to live in their village.

In partnership with the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd, Wanbao and its two subsidiaries, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd and Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd, runs three copper mines – Letpadaung, Sabetaung and Kyesintaung – in Salingyi Township. Letpadaung is the biggest of the three.

Those mines have long been a source of public fury for destroying the environment and seizing people’s land. For many years, the Letpadaung mine has made headlines due to land disputes and a series of violent crackdowns against anti-mine protesters.

As Wanbao is fencing off villages, junta troops are raiding villages to the east of the mining project.

Following a resistance attack on a police station in Nyaungbingyi village by the Chindwin River to the east of the copper mine on June 9, the regime has brought in more troops and has been raiding villages. Junta troops have burnt some 75 percent of houses in Nyaungbingyi.

The raids have displaced around 1,000 residents from Nyaungnabin and neighboring villages.

Junta troops deployed at the mine to provide security for the Chinese firm have also been involved in raids and have shelled villages. Resistance forces have responded by firing mortars at the compound.

Wanbao is a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned defense firm China North Industries Corporation. In July 2021, the US sanctioned Wanbao Mining and its entities for supporting Myanmar’s regime and also banned the trade of copper from the mines on the London Metal Exchange.

Following the 2021 coup, the regime put its share of copper from Wanbao-operated mines out to tender. Around 10,000 metric tonnes were sold, earning the regime millions of US dollars.

A report by Publish What You Pay Australia — a coalition of 30 organizations campaigning for transparency and accountability in the extractive industries — said Chinese-backed mines were financially propping up the junta.

The report, How Chinese Mining Investment Funds Myanmar Military, released in November 2021, said the Chinese-run Letpadaung, Sabetaung, Kyesintaung and Tagaung Taung mines in Sagaing paid an estimated US$725 million to the military during the 2020-21 financial year.

Wanbao said it has suspended operations since the coup. Some staff have also gone on strike in response to China’s perceived support for the regime.

Despite the announced suspension, the company has many tonnes of copper in stock, with the regime continuing to receive benefits from the Chinese firm, said Bo Sitt Naing.

“They have many tonnes of copper that they had mined previously and have kept in their compound. They have been exploiting the country’s resources in cooperation with dictators. China only focuses on its interests. If it only focuses on its interests without sympathy for people, confrontation is needed,” he said.

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