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Aung San Suu Kyi Endorses China-backed Mine in Myanmar

Categories: East Asia, Myanmar (Burma), Citizen Media, Economics & Business, Politics, Protest

An investigation commission led by Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recommends that the controversial China-backed copper mine in Monywa should continue its operations, but must improve its environmental safeguards and compensate local residents. This has led activists who have been opposing the mine to protest against Suu Kyi.

The official report [1] [my] released on March 12, 2013 admits that the project does not provide locals with jobs and violates environmental standards and has tried to come up with concrete solutions to solve these issues.

The commission was formed by the government last year to probe the violent dispersal [2] of a protest camp near the mine site. The 10-page report confirmed that riot police used smoke bombs [3] to disperse protesters which included local villagers, activists, and monks who are opposed to the mining operation. The report also advised authorities to be transparent about the contract involving the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and Wan Bao Company.

Report and Aung San Suu Kyi praised

Many netizens seem to be pleased to read the first report of its kind in Myanmar. Nathan Maung wrote [4] [my] a short note about the report:

I've just read the report by the investigation commission on Latpadaung Copper Mine. I can see the effort and quality of the commission led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This report is not a report that everyone can accept but it reflects all the initial promises of revealing all things as the truth. (Those who are too emotional and making effort only for blaming do not need to read this.) What the commission reported is that UMEHL and Wan Bao should amend the contract with transparency then the project may be continued.

Zay Htet added [5][my]:

It's really a detailed report. To make it happen, it's not too difficult if it is done with good will. There are many example (projects) in other countries that are systematically carried out.. I totally accept this (report). That's invaluable experience and the beginning of cooperation, an important effort. I'm pleased.

Htet Linn also asserted [6][my] that the report is fair enough:

Daw Suu (Daw Aung San Suu Kyi) is unbelievable. It's remarkable that she made it as fair as possible for win-win situation as much as she can even though many criticized this whole thing as a political trap for her.

Protests against Aung San Suu Kyi

But some locals in the project area protested [7] against the report and Wan Bao company by demanding a complete stop in the copper mine project. Meanwhile, Suu Kyi went to Monywa to hold a press conference on March 13, 2013. Some activists protested against the report in Yangon as well. They claimed [8][my] that “whoever supported the project will be known as criminals in history”.

Copper mine protest [7]

Monywa locals protesting against the copper mining investigation report. Screentshot from Eleven's Media youtube video

Suu Kyi welcomed the protests and even reminded her detractors that everybody can protest against her under the law and even in front of her house in Yangon. Suu Kyi was defended by many netizens especially on Facebook. Here are some of the comments:

Myo Kyaw Htun [9][my] : Lack of knowledge, short term mindset – it's difficult (to deal) with such politics. Please sympathize with someone who is running here and there and solving every issue and problem regardless of her age. Whenever something happens, if all would be just protesting without doing any work, there will be no productivity but just going back.

Andy AP [10]: I'm just wondering, did they really read the report from beginning to end???

Kyaw Thu Tun [11][my] : If they can't accept it, protest against government bravely. Why they yell “We don't want Daw Aung San Suu Kyi” while she just did her duties courageously as a member of parliament when government appointed her without any bias to government or Wan Bao, she is neither supporting their job nor being responsible for what they did.

Lin Thurein [12][my] : Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is solving all the mess done by military junta including current president. […] As nobody was daring enough to be involved in such sensitive situation, they transferred that mess to her. And she bravely accepted her duty as a public leader. How can they claim the results (of the report) are not fair just because they don't want it?

May Thingyan Hein [13][my]: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should not be the target of protests. They should read the investigation report carefully. She suggested specific reforms that the Ministry of Mining, UMEHL and Wan Bao Company have to follow. […] The public should demand them (UMEHL, Ministry and Wan Bao) to follow all those suggestions clearly.

Mommy Htar [14][my] : It's very clear. The commission cleverly pointed out the downside of the project and asked the proponents to amend the contract including compensation (to locals) with transparency and to redo the processing of assessment on how the farmers and ecosystem are affected by the mining. For example, they reported the low compensation received by farmers under the current contract. The opinion of the commission cannot be “do or don't”. They can only “report” the situation.

Both Wan Bao company and UMEHL [15] announced their intention of complying with the recommendations given by the commission. Meanwhile, the government formed a committee to ensure that reforms are first implemented before the mine project is allowed to proceed.

This article was written by Chan Myae Khine and headline was crafted by the editorial team.