Monywa Letpadaung copper mine, Sagaing, Myanmar

Violent repression, incendiary phosphorus and the killing of a woman protester mark the development of this large copper mine. Affected people, activists and international organisations mobilize for an immediate halt of operations.


Myanmar is rich in mineral resources and has sought to increase investment into its extractive industries since the transition towards a market-based economy in 2011. The Monywa copper mining complex, comprised of the Letpadaung and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) mines, is Myanmar’s largest copper mining project. It is co-operated by the Chinese company Wanbao Mining, the military and the government of Myanmar (see project details). As several reports by civil society organisations have shown, the mine has caused massive human rights concerns over evictions and use of violence against protesters, as well as concerns over environmental destruction affecting local communities [1,2,3,4]. A strong movement of protesters in alliance with civil society organizations are opposing the mine [5,9]. 

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Basic Data
NameMonywa Letpadaung copper mine, Sagaing, Myanmar
ProvinceSagaing region
SiteSalingyi Township, Monywa district
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Chemical industries
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Letpadaung copper mine is part of the Monywa copper project, which also contains the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) copper mines, as well as the Moe Gyo sulphuric acid factory. Letpadaung is the largest of the Monywa deposits and accounts for 75% of the total copper reserves. The other deposits have been developed under the S&M mine [1,2,3]. For the Letpadaung mine, production quantity is expected to reach 100,000 tons of cathode copper/year [1]. First copper production was announced in May 2016 [3].

Development of the complex started in 1978, when the government-owned company Mining Enterprise 1 (ME1) began to develop the S&K deposits. Feasibility studies on the Letpadaung mine were conducted during 1994-1996. In 1996, the project became a joint with Canadian Miner Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. The joint venture agreement was signed with the Myanmar government on April 10, 1996 [1,3]. The Canadian company decided however to divest its shares due to disagreements with the Myanmar government [5].

Since 2010, the project has been operated by Chinese Wanbao Mining company, a subsidiary of NORINCO, in a joint venture with the military owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and the state-owned company Mining Enterprise 1 (ME1). Chinese Wanbao Mining Ltd. holds two subsidiaries; the Myanmar Wanbao Copper Mining Ltd that operates the Letpadaung mine, and the Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Ltd. that operates the S&K mine. UMEHL and ME1 are partners in the development of these mines. According to the 2017 report from Amnesty International, Wanbao Mining and UMEHL retain 49% of the profits. The Government of Myanmar receives the remaining 51% [see 1].

The Moe Gyo sulphuric acid factory was constructed by UMEHL in 2007 in order to supply acid to the S&K mine [1].

Investment into the extension starting in 2012 was reported to amount to about 1 billion USD in 2015 [6].

26 villages, comprised of about 25,000 people, are located within five kilometres of the mine [1].
Project Area (in hectares)2,746ha (+ 809ha extension)
Level of Investment (in USD)1,000,000,000 USD (mine extension)
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Populationseveral thousands
Start Date1996
Company Names or State EnterprisesMyanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. from Myanmar - operating company
Chinese Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. from China - Parent company/ operating company
Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL) from Myanmar - partner company
NORINCO International Cooperation Ltd. (NORINCO International ) from China
Ivanhoe Mines from Canada
Relevant government actorsArmy of Myanmar

Ministry of Industry
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSave the Letpadaung Committee (SLC)

88 Generation

Amnesty International

Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC)

and others
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow)
Potential: Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The conflict continues in 2018.
Sources and Materials

The Myanmar Mines Law
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[2] Amnesty International, 2015. MYANMAR: OPEN FOR BUSINESS? CORPORATE CRIME AND ABUSES AT MYANMAR COPPER MINE. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]


[3] Wikipedia on the Letpadaung Monywa Copper Mine
[click to view]

[4] The Irrawaddy, 20 November 2012. Monywa Copper Mining Protest Resumes. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]

[5] Heinrich Böll Stiftung Myanmar. Foreign-investment-induced conflicts in Myanmar - The Monywa Copper Mine. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]

[6] The Guardian, 29 November 2012. Burma: riot police move in to break up copper mine protest. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]

[8] Reuters, 6 May 2016. Hundreds protest restart of China-backed copper mine in Myanmar. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]

[7] Myanmar Times, 18 March 2013. Fury over Letpadaung copper mine report. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]

[9] Open Democracy, Michael Caster, 3 Auguts 2015. Against Letpadaung: copper mining in Myanmar and the struggle for human rights. (accessed 12.03.2018).
[click to view]

Other Documents

The Monywa copper mines (Letpadaung and S&M) Source: Google Earth
[click to view]

Protests against the findings of the investigation commission report Source: Myanmar times,
[click to view]

'Protesters wanted' sign Source:
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update20/03/2018