YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The human rights group Amnesty International is urging Myanmar's government to suspend operations at a copper mine jointly owned by its army and a Chinese state enterprise until its impact on human rights and the environment is properly addressed.
The London-based group said in a report issued Friday that a proposed expansion of the Letpadaung mine, part of the Monywa copper project in northern Myanmar, threatens to uproot thousands of people and pollute surrounding land with runoffs of dangerous chemicals during earthquakes or floods.
The group also said that despite official promises, there has been minimal consultation with the local community on the project, and protesters have been subject to prosecution under draconian laws.
"Myanmar desperately needs big business projects like the Letpadaung mine to succeed," said Mark Dummett, Amnesty International's researcher on Business and Human Rights. "But these should not come at the cost of local communities. The government needs to intervene and suspend operations until all human rights and environmental concerns are properly investigated and addressed."
The group called on the government to ensure that the mining project "does not carry out any more evictions of people from their homes or land until all procedural safeguards required under international human rights law have been put in place."
The project gained notoriety in 2012 when a police attack on a campsite of protesters injured scores of people, many of them left disfigured by burns. It was later established that security forces fired white phosphorus at the protesters, a material used as an incendiary weapon of war.
In 2014, police fatally shot a female villager who had joined a protest over the mining company's fencing off farmland.
The project was established by the Canadian mining company Ivanhoe, but China's Wanbao Mining bought its interest in 2010 and is now the operator. Wanbao Mining is a subsidiary of NORINCO, a Chinese state-owned conglomerate with interests in arms manufacturing and mining. Wanbao's partners in the venture are the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., owned by the Myanmar military, and the Myanmar state-owned company Mining Enterprise 1.
The Amnesty International report said the situation has not improved since Myanmar's military-controlled government was replaced last year by the democratically elected one of Aung San Suu Kyi.
"One sector to which the government wants to attract new foreign investments is mining," it notes. "Myanmar has vast mineral wealth but the industry is largely underdeveloped. Investment in the sector has the potential to bring social and economic benefits to Myanmar. However, extractive industries, such as large-scale mining, also carry specific risks for human rights. This is because they often require the expropriation of land and generate harmful waste materials that require careful management."