The Guardian UK reports that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is facing criticism for defending the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in north-western Burma. “A government-backed investigation commission – which she chaired – admitted that the project lacked environmental protection measures and would not provide jobs for locals, but should nonetheless continue in order to encourage foreign investment and maintain a positive relationship with China.”
The Los Angeles Times notes that near the dorms for the workers there are “pools of water in Technicolor shades dotted fields that were largely devoid of plant life”. Beginning in 1978 land was seized to mine copper. “Initially, there was little obvious damage. But tanks used to leach out the ore began to overflow, spreading chemicals on the land and in the creek, killing crops and fish. After 1993, when miners started spraying acid on the tailings under a new open-pit system, people began complaining of nausea, asthma, blisters, eye inflammation and higher rates of cancer, especially liver cancer. …Well water acquired a metallic taste, turning yellow after sitting a few minutes. …Most residents started traveling miles to get their water.”
The Guardian adds that in November 2012 an 11-day occupation of the mine was broken up violently by police wielding smoke bombs laden with phosphorous – an agent generally used in war – that resulted in the hospitalization of more than 100 people for severe burns.
The mine is jointly owned by the Chinese mining firm Wan Bao, a unit of Beijing-based weapons maker China North Industries, and the Burmese-military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings.