DVB Multimedia Group

Australian company buys majority stake in Sagaing mine

A map showing the Yar Taung minesite in northern Sagaing Division. (Photo: Metro Mining)

An Australian mining firm has purchased an 80 percent stake in a copper-mining project in Sagaing Division, a region where another mine operated by a Chinese state-owned company has drawn strong opposition from local residents.

Brisbane-based Metro Mining Ltd. announced last week that it had agreed to pay US$62,500 to the Burmese-owned Mahar San Company for a stake in a joint venture that will develop the Yar Taung Mine, a project that covers an area of more than 7.5 km2.

The company is one of the first Western mining firms to invest in Burma since a revised mining law was passed by the outgoing parliament at the end of last year. The new rules made it easier for foreign firms to invest in small- and medium-sized mining projects, something that was not feasible under the previous rules.

In February, another Australia-based firm, PanAust, a subsidiary of a Chinese state-owned firm, announced that it had also been awarded mineral exploration rights in Sagaing.

According to Metro, the Yar Taung site is located about 220 km north-northwest of Mandalay and consists of three small copper-mining concessions of 16-20 hectares each and an  “enveloping, larger copper exploration concession covering 7.5 km2”.

The far larger Letpadaung Copper Mine, located about 150 km west of Mandalay in Sagaing’s Salingyi Township, has been a major flashpoint for protests since Burma started introducing political and economic reforms in 2011.

Despite winning the provisional backing of a commission led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the popular leader of Burma’s now ruling National League for Democracy, the $1 billion project, run by Chinese-owned Myanmar Wanbao, continues to attract controversy.

As part of the Yar Taung deal, Metro will loan at least $100,000 per year to the joint-venture company it will form with Mahar San “to undertake drilling, resource definition, feasibility studies and other evaluations”, the company said.

It will also carry out exploration activities, environmental and social impact assessments and a mine-closure plan at the “relevant time”, it added.

Metro provides no information about Mahar San, describing it only as a “small Myanmar company”. It doesn’t appear in Burma’s first-ever Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report released earlier this year, which published details of how much firms in the extractive sector paid to Burma’s government.

Metro Mining, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, describes itself operating a “major bauxite projects in Cape York and one of Australia’s largest thermal coal resources, in the Surat Basin”.