Myanmar copper mine told to compensate for land grabs

YANGON Tue Mar 12, 2013 5:10am EDT

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her speech at the National League for Democracy party's (NLD) congress in Yangon March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her speech at the National League for Democracy party's (NLD) congress in Yangon March 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

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YANGON (Reuters) - People whose land was seized to allow the expansion of a copper mine in northwestern Myanmar, prompting protests that were crushed by police, should be compensated before the project goes ahead, according to an official report published on Tuesday.

The report, led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, also found that inexperienced police fired smoke bombs containing harmful phosphorous into a protesters' camp at the Monywa copper mine last November, causing serious injuries.

The heavy-handed raids on protesters called into question the sincerity of Myanmar's reforms, kicked off in 2011 by a quasi-civilian government that replaced a military regime that had run the country for half a century.

Land grabs are increasingly contested by residents exercising new-found freedoms and no longer afraid to speak out.

"The commission does not think the project should be allowed to continue as it is," the report said regarding the $1 billion expansion of the mine. It said a "lack of transparency" was the main reason for events leading up to the violence.

Over 100 people, including 99 Buddhist monks, ended up in hospital after the suppression of the protests.

The report recommended changes to the expansion plans, which locals said involved the unlawful seizure of more than 7,800 acres of land.

It recommended greater compensation for residents, including the return of 1,900 acres for farming as the original compensation was insufficient.

President Thein Sein has set up a committee to implement the recommendations, including representatives of the government and of the joint owners, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and a unit of China North Industries Corp, a Chinese weapons manufacturer.

Further recommendations in the report included police reform and anti-riot training for officers.

(Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alan Raybould and Ron Popeski)

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