If 2012 was Myanmar’s year of tentative opening, 2013 is shaping up to be a year of protests. The latest involves a controversial copper mine project worth $1 billion, which locals and activists have been protesting for months now, even after a brutal crackdown on demonstrators in November 2012. Officials announced this week that the copper mine will resume operation, reports The Irrawaddy, a newspaper based in Bangkok.
The country’s largest copper mine, the Letpadung project was originally a joint venture between Wanbao, a subsidiary of a Chinese weapons-maker, and a holding company backed by Myanmar’s military. Locals objected to it, saying it would create pollution and entail the confiscation of thousands of acres of farmland from more than two-dozen villages. Buddhist monks say that mine development has already destroyed or damaged holy sites. Last November’s crackdown saw police put down a months-long demonstration over these grievances, leaving monks and residents injured. Three protesters are still in prison.
It would appear a hopeful sign of reform that after those protests, the former military regime launched a formal inquiry into the project’s impact. Compromises were made; a new contract was drawn up between the Chinese and the Myanmar sides. Under the new contract, the Myanmar government will have a 51% stake in the mine, reducing the stake held by Wanbao and its partner, the Myanmar holding company, to 49%. Wanbao has also promised to uphold environmental standards and to hire local workers. And 2% of the mine’s net profits are to be spent on health and education in the area.