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 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Call for an investigation into Ivanhoe's jailed Burmese driver

Canadian Friends of Burma
April 08, 2009

The Canadian Friends of Burma (CFOB) expresses grave concern regarding Ko Thet Lwin who worked as a driver for Andrew Mitchell, a British geologist employed by Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines to oversee the firm's exploration work at Modi Taung in upper Burma. Ko Thet Lwin was arrested with Andrew Mitchell when they approached to the residence of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. According to Ko Thet Lwin's family, on 17 December 2003 Mitchell asked Ko Thet Lwin to take him to the Burmese opposition leader’s home.

“Apparently, Mitchell wanted to see Suu Kyi and assumed his position with a foreign firm engaged in a joint venture with Burma's generals would enable him to get past her jailers” said Kevin McLeod, a board member of CFOB. Shortly after the arrest, Mitchell was released but Ko Thet Lwin was sentenced to seven years in prison. When Burma supporters in Canada inquired about his case, a top executive of Ivanhoe Mines replied that no person named Ko Thet Lwin was ever an employee of the firm.

Burmese Junta's own newspaper contradicts Ivanhoe's denial

On July 28 2004, the Burmese junta's official English language newspaper - the New Light of Myanmar - confirmed that he was employed as a driver for Ivanhoe Mines. "Ko Thet Lwin was appointed by the company as the driver of the project manager of the company, Dr Andrew Mitchell" wrote by Pauk Sa in article #55 in a series titled ‘Those Who Daren't Show Their Face.’ The article claimed that Ko Thet Lwin was high on drugs and had forced Mitchell against his will to go to Suu Kyi's house.

Last known location notorious Insein Prison

In July 2004, Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners - Burma (AAPP Burma) reported that Ko Thet Lwin was sent to the Taungzun Labor Camp in Mon State and that his family had contacted the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to verify his well being. CFOB later learned that he had been transferred to Burma's infamous Insein prison located just outside of Rangoon.

A report issued by AAPP last year stated that the night Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in May 2008 the roof blew off Insein prison and overwhelmed authorities herded more than 1500 prisoners into an extremely crowded hall. The prisoners were denied food or water and forced to stand for hours on end. When a small fire broke out in the hall, guards responded by shooting into the crowd killing 36 inmates and injuring more than 70. Some of the injured subsequently died as result of their wounds. Since the cyclone hit Burma's Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, CFOB has not been able to verify Ko Thet Lwin's location, legal status or the well being of his family.

CFOB does not know if Ko Thet Lwin survived the Insein prison massacre of May 2008. Even without a cataclysmic event like a cyclone and subsequent mass killing, life expectancy in Burma's prisons is very short. Burma's prisoners are routinely subjected to torture and abuse. Many prisoners are used as forced labor by the military and worked as porters in incredibly tough conditions till they die. The ICRC has not been allowed into any of Burma's prisons since December 2005.

Mitchell still Ivanhoe Myanmar employee as of fall 2008

A paper which listed Mitchell as an employee of Ivanhoe Myanmar Holdings was presented at a mining conference held in Bangkok in November 2008. Mitchell was also listed as the corresponding author of the paper entitled “The Monywa Copper Deposits, Myanmar.” According to the National Taiwan University's Department of Geosciences in October 2008, Mitchell is listed again as an “Ivanhoe Myanmar” employee also gave a presentation at the university on the “Possible Mesozoic suture within the Shan-Thai block in western Myanmar and continuation into Tibet.”

Newly Created Extractives Ombudsman

CFOB hopes to bring up Ko Thet Lwin's case with the long expected Canadian international extractives ombudsman. The ombudsman position was created as a product of the Corporate Social Responsibility framework drafted as a result of the round tables on Natural Resource Extraction between Canadian civil society and Canada's mining industry.

The proposed framework included an explicit government policy that all Canadian companies operating overseas should adhere to a standard set of guidelines that include core human rights treaties; the Framework included the creation of an independent extractives ombudsman, which would provide non-nationals with the opportunity to lodge complaints about Canadian companies, and whose office would undertake independent fact-finding about such complaints.

In late March 2009 after a lengthy delay, the Canadian government finally created an extractives ombudsman; however, the newly created position does not have the power to investigate a firm's overseas activities unless the mining firm agrees to such an investigation, thus rendering the office weak and ineffective. Ivanhoe refuses so far to even comment on the present status of its Burma operations which ostensibly have been for sale for two years and may or may not have been sold already. Since it first arrived in Burma in the early 1990's Ivanhoe has been far from transparent about its operations in the country and its joint venture with a violent military dictatorship. It is extremely unlikely the firm would ever voluntarily agree to be seriously investigated.

Prior to launching his partnership with Burma's killer generals Ivanhoe Chairman Robert Friedland was CEO of another Vancouver based mining firm Galactic Resources. Galactic ran a disastrous gold mine in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado called Summitville. Thousands of liters of toxic mining waste leaked from the mine into a nearby river killing all aquatic life downstream for at least 17 miles. In December 2000 after nearly a decade long legal fight with US government authorities, Friedland agreed to personally pay US $27.5 million towards the clean up of the mine, the largest such fine in US history. To date US taxpayers have spent more than $200 million to clean up Summitville, called by many the costliest environmental mining disaster in US history.

“If the US government had only required Friedland and Galactic Resources to voluntarily participate in an investigation into the Summitville disaster, Friedland would have never paid a $27 million dollar fine, so why should we expect Ivanhoe and its Chairman Friedland to voluntarily cooperate with the extractives ombudsman. We will only get to the bottom of Friedland's Burmese fiasco if the government of Canada forces Ivanhoe to cooperate,” Kevin McLeod added.

CFOB calls on MPs to subpoena Friedland to testify before Parliament

The Canadian Friends of Burma urges MPs to force Mr. Friedland, a Canadian Citizen to testify before Parliament regarding the current status of Ivanhoe's Burmese operations. Precedent was set when Clifford James of TVI Pacific testified before a parliamentary sub committee regarding his firm’s activities in Mindanao, a war torn region of the Philippines.

Tin Maung Htoo, executive director of Canadian Friends of Burma says “We must force Ivanhoe to come clean about what happened to their mine and what happened to their driver.”

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