Suu Kyi Promises Compensation for Copper Mine Villagers
Mar 22, 2013 (Menafn - Federal Government Documents and Publications/ContentWorks via COMTEX) --Suu Kyi Promises Compensation for Copper Mine Villagers
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi assured villagers protesting against a China-backed copper mine that they will be paid swift and higher compensation, as she moved to calm crowds angry over her probe commission's decision to proceed with the controversial project.
On the second day of her visit to meet with villagers near the mine in Sarlingyi township in northern Burma's Sagaing division, Aung San Suu Kyi told residents that beginning Friday they will be able to submit applications to receive compensation from project developer Wan Bao Co.
"An administrative group will travel around the area and will ask local residents to submit applications for compensation," she told residents, some of them venting their anger over an investigation she led that concluded that the project proceed with adjustments.
"Then the compensation will be paid within days," Aung San Suu Kyi said.
Compensation for the land, which residents said was confiscated illegally to make way for the project, will be paid at current rates recommended in her parliamentary commission's report, she said.
"The compensation that local people got when the project started was very low," she said. "Compensation has been scrutinized and will be paid at the current rate."
The panel's report, released on Tuesday, found that land in the area is worth 1.5 million kyat (U.S. 1,730) per acre, much more than the 5 to 80 kyat (up to U.S. .09) per acre that had previously been offered to residents under an old law dating from the rule of Burma's previous military junta.
The commission, formed after a brutal police crackdown on protesters in November, said a portion of land allocated to the project should be returned to the villagers.
But italso recommended that expansion of the mine-which is a joint venture between the Burmese military's Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. and Wan Bao, a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco-be allowed to continue.
As head of the commission, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's highest-profile lawmaker and a hugely popular prodemocracy campaigner during the period of junta rule, traveled to the mine area in the Letpadaung hills beginning Wednesday to explain the commission's findings.
But on her way to meet villagers in Ton village and Se Tal village on Thursday, the parliamentarian was confronted by hundreds of villagers demanding a complete halt to the project, which residents have said will harm their environment, livelihoods, and health.
A crowd surrounding her shouted, "Does Aung San Suu Kyi stand for the local people, or for Wan Bao company?"
In heated exchanges, villagers at the meetings said they rejected any compensation, calling for a halt to the project.
"We don't want compensation or jobs. We just want the mountain," one woman in Ton village said.
In Se Tal village, one woman said residents didn't want the mine even if it created jobs and brought economic development.
"We don't want to work for Wan Bao Company," she shouted at Aung San Suu Kyi in the meeting.
'Please complain to me'
Aung San Suu Kyi told protesters in Se Tal village that the commission had considered the best possible courses of action and that scrapping the mine project would risk turning international investment away from Burma.
"Some people want the project to be stopped, but no one points out what the results of stopping the project will be," she said.
"The result would be the same as before, as the land is damaged already and people have already lost their land. And other countries will think that our country cannot be trusted."
Addressing activist monks who had come from outside the area to organize a protest camp in Ton village, she said she took full responsibility for the inquiry commission's recommendations and invited protesters to demonstrate at her home in Rangoon, Burma's biggest city.
"If you want to complain about this, please complain to me," she said.
But she warned that all protesters should respect the law and apply for appropriate permission to stage demonstrations.
"The authorities promised me that they will give permission if people apply to protest. If people protest without permission, they could be punished under the law. Our country needs rule of law."
Public protests were barred in Burma under the former junta regime.
Protesters opposed to the copper mine have called for the abolition of Section 144 of the Criminal Code, a provision left over from the junta era that rights groups say police can use unfairly to arrest demonstrators.
Last year's crackdown on protest camps near the mine site sparked widespread popular anger across the country after more than 100 people including monks suffered severe burns and other injuries.
This week's report by the inquiry commission found that ill-trained police had used smoke bombs containing phosphorus, a highly flammable chemical, to break up the protests, but failed to hold any official accountable.
Reported by RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.
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