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Monywa Letpadaung copper mine, Sagaing, Myanmar


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]. 

The social impacts of the mine have been devastating, as two extensive reports from Amnesty International documented [1,2]. Forced evictions occurred first in 1996, following the Joint Venture agreement with the Canadian company Ivanhoe Mining, which first operated the mine. After Ivanhoe divested from the mine in 2010, Chinese Wanbao Mining took over and started to develop the Letpadaung mine in 2011. Subsequently, large human rights abuses were caused by the government as well as the involved companies through forced evictions of thousands of villagers, in absence of any adequate consultation, consent or compensation [1,2]. In total, ca. 2746 hectares from 30 villages were grabbed by the company [1] and religious sites were destroyed [5]. Four villages - Zeedaw, Saedee, Kandaw and Wet Hme – had to be completely relocated [1]. While the company claims to have conducted community consultations, several villages were excluded from his process and Amnesty International found that these claims were false. Proposed compensations schemes were characterized by coercion to accept [1]. 

The project’s environmental impacts were poorly managed and have led to severe consequences for the health and livelihoods of people living in nearby villages [1,2]. The mine is located on the flood plain of the Chindwin River, an area prone to earthquakes and floods, which can lead to toxic spills from mining waste. Among the documented impacts was a tailing spill in November 2015, when mining waste leaked into people’s fields at Wet Hme village and destroyed their crops. No clean-up or compensation for crop losses was undertaken by the company. Soil samples taken during 2016 show elevated levels of metals, particularly arsenic, copper and lead [1]. The health and environmental damages result not only from the mining site and its inadequate waste management, but also from the emissions of the Moe Gyo sulphuric acid factory that is part of the Monywa complex and that supplies the mining sites with acid. An increased number of children born blind were reported in relation to the factory impacts [6]. Villagers continuously asked for relocation of the factory and achieved the support of local authorities who denied issuing a new license to the factory in May 2016. However, the factory continued operation based on a higher-level license from the Ministry of Industry [1]. 

Large protests followed the forced evictions of 2011 and villagers mobilized the Monywa mining complex through peaceful demonstrations [1,5]. They set up protest camps, conducted protest marches, sent petition letters, and blocked the paths of trucks at the construction site [4]. Farmers also continued to plough the land to be acquired by the company - a common form of protest in Myanmar [2]. Some demonstrations reached more than 1,000 people, and were joined not only by villagers, but also by monks, activists, and students from Yangon and other cities. Parallel demonstrations in Yangon were organized, for instance, during the visit of US President Obama. Several civil society groups across the country supported the protests [2,4,5,9]. 

The protesters have faced strong repression, intimidation, violence and criminalization [1,2]. They said that around 400 security police staff were stationed near the protest camps set up in 2012 [4]. On November 29, 2012, about 500 monks and 50 other protesters who refused to leave the protest camps were violently attacked by the police and the company who used grenades containing incendiary white phosphorus. The use of white phosphorus is against international law and has caused dramatic injuries [1,2]. Over 100 people were severely injured and some face lifelong disability [1]. In November 2012, the Letpadaung Investigation Commission was established by the Myanmar government, chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to assess the impacts of the Monywa project. The commission found a series of flaws and made several recommendations to improve the situation, which were however not adequately addressed by the company [1,3]. Many villagers also protested the shortcomings of the report: while it acknowledged the use of white phosphorus, it did not call for a punishment of responsible police officers [7]. 

The conflict escalated in December 2014, when the Wanbao company bulldozed villagers’ crops to extend the project area. This sparked large farmer protests and clashes with the police, during which a woman, Daw Khin Win, was shot and killed by the police [1]. Following this incidence, the company announced the suspension o fits extension plans and an inquiry team was formed by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), which highlighted the police’s failure leading to injuries. The commission called for an investigation into the death of Daw Khin that was confirmed to be caused by the shootings, however, their recommendations were not pursued [1]. While the officials involved in the violent clashes during December 2014 were not held accountable, villagers who peacefully protested have been subject to criminalization, repression, intimidation and violence. Some face charges over defamation, unlawful assembly, or trespassing company property according to Section 144 of the criminal procedure. The charges entail both prison time and fines [1]. 

Protests intensified again in 2016, when copper production started at the Letpadaung mine and when the company announced that the formerly suspended extensions plans are still pursued [1,8]. The plans to expand the mining area for another  800 ha will put further 141 families at risk of forced evictions and loss of farmland. Thousands of people face the risks of potential environmental damages [1]. As of early 2018, human rights concerns and environmental issues remain without adequate improvement and the damages caused so far have not been adequately addressed. Affected villagers, activists and international organisations call for a halt of the giant copper mine until all concerns are addressed [1]. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Monywa Letpadaung copper mine, Sagaing, Myanmar
State or province:Sagaing region
Location of conflict:Salingyi 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:Chemical industries
Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Tailings from mines
Specific commodities:Copper

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The 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:2,746ha (+ 809ha extension)
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,000,000,000 USD (mine extension)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:several thousands
Start of the conflict:1996
Company names or state enterprises:Myanmar 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 actors:Army of Myanmar
Ministry of Industry
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Save the Letpadaung Committee (SLC)
88 Generation
Amnesty International
Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC)
and others

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
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-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The conflict continues in 2018.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

The Myanmar Mines Law

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries


[2] Amnesty International, 2015. MYANMAR: OPEN FOR BUSINESS? CORPORATE CRIME AND ABUSES AT MYANMAR COPPER MINE. (accessed 12.03.2018).

[3] Wikipedia on the Letpadaung Monywa Copper Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meta information

Contributor:EJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3237




Artisanal mines, displaced by the project


The Monywa copper mines (Letpadaung and S&M)

Source: Google Earth

Protests against the findings of the investigation commission report

Source: Myanmar times,