Activists urge Australia to end lucrative links to Myanmar junta’s mines

Activists urge Australia to end lucrative links to Myanmar junta’s mines

Pro-democracy activists urge Australian government action against domestic companies they say are funding Myanmar’s military junta, citing environmental and human rights abuses in the country’s mining sector.Two advocacy groups criticized the slow pace of Australian sanctions, calling on Canberra to follow Western counterparts in targeting state-owned natural resource enterprises there.A recent Justice For Myanmar report identifies Australian-linked companies allegedly supporting the junta through mining activities and related services, prompting demands for coordinated international action. Pro-democracy activists have urged the Australian government to crack down on domestic companies involved in Myanmar’s mines, saying these firms are funding human rights abuses and environmental destruction carried out by the country’s military junta.

In statements marking the anniversary of the February 2021 coup that overthrew the Southeast Asian country’s elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, advocacy groups Justice For Myanmar (JFM) and the Sydney-based Myanmar Campaign Network (MCN) criticized what they describe as the “inadequate” pace of Australian government sanctions against Myanmar’s state-owned industries.

Britain recently imposed fresh sanctions on military units and enterprises involved in what it said were “serious human rights violations” and civilian repression in Myanmar. The listed entities include Mining Enterprise 1 (ME1) and Mining Enterprise 2 (ME2), both connected to the junta’s security forces.

“The U.K. has finally joined the U.S., EU and Canada in sanctioning ME1 and ME2,” MCN campaign manager Tasneem Roc told Mongabay, “and Australia should be joining them.”

“These countries should coordinate to target the entire network of individuals and entities in the mining sector, and other natural resource sectors, leaving no loopholes,” Roc added.

According to Roc, mining in Myanmar is lucrative and historically marred by “human rights violations, corruption, exploitation, environmental degradation and conflicts.”

A jade mining site in Myanmar’s Kachin state. Image by Yin_Min_Tun via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).
A JFM report, titled “Mines Against Humanity” and published to coincide with the anniversary of the 2021 coup, detailed Australian-linked companies’ deep ties to the trade, from extraction to prospecting, exploration and related services.

It identified 10 Australian-owned or -led company networks that it alleged have either continued mining or looking for resources, maintained their permits and paid fees or provided services generating revenues for the junta following the coup.

The most prominent of them was Valentis Group, which the report describes as a “sprawling network of companies backed by Australian investors set up by brothers closely connected to the military.”

Other entities named in the report as having “remained active in Myanmar” include Cornerstone Resources, Asia Pacific Mining Ltd., Access Asia Mining Pte. Ltd., Georesources Group and PSI Drilling, PanAust Ltd., Mission Legal Ltd., Knight Piésold, Australian Laboratory Services (ALS) and Golden Land & Australian Mining Services Co. Ltd. (GAMS).

JFM spokesperson Yadanar Maung said Australia is “failing to take necessary action to lock the junta’s sources of funds from mining and other lucrative sectors.”

“The Myanmar military operates as a cartel that is stealing the wealth of the people of Myanmar on a massive scale to fund its war of terror and enrich war criminals,” Maung added.

“Yet, there are Australian companies, executives and investors in the mining sector that are continuing business as usual, financing the illegitimate junta and helping to keep a corrupt and destructive mining sector open for business.”

“Australia needs to act now to impose sanctions on the junta, its businesses and cronies and stop Australians from directly and indirectly providing funds and other forms of support to the junta.”

An active jade mine in Hpakant township in Kachin state, northern Myanmar. Image by Arezarni via Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0).
Mongabay sought comment from the Australian-linked businesses named in the report. Two responded: Valentis Asia and PanAust.

Valentis Asia COO and CFO Michael Phin rejected JFM’s findings as “false, baseless, and scurrilous” in an email to Mongabay.

“Valentis has never derived any revenue from any mining or mineral extraction activities in Myanmar,” he wrote. “As there was never any revenue from mining or mineral extraction activities, no mining royalties or mining taxes have ever been paid.”

Phin also said Valentis Asia had “already exited from Myanmar following the divestment in 2022 of our Myanmar operating subsidiaries,” which JFM questions.

In a statement, PanAust said it “has decided to exit Myanmar and is in the process of withdrawing.”

“We expect that this may take several months,” the company added. “In the meantime, our focus is on continuing to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our people on the ground in Myanmar.”

Global consulting company Knight Piésold admitted to engaging in “minimal, limited” work in Myanmar following the coup when asked by JFM.

David Morgan, managing director of Knight Piésold’s Australia office, told the advocacy group in correspondence shared with Mongabay that the firm is providing social and environmental services to the China-owned Myanmar Wanbao Mining Company Ltd.

Banner image of a protest against the military coup in Myanmar, February 14, 2021, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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Activism, Conflict, Environment, Environmental Politics, Governance, Human Rights, Mining

Asia, Australia, Burma, Myanmar, Oceania, Southeast Asia

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