Shan State coal mine cited in fight against re­source ex­trac­tion

The Myanmar Times - - News - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­

SHAN ac­tivists and politi­cians are call­ing for a halt to re­source ex­trac­tion in parts of Myan­mar plagued by con­flict, with one hu­man rights group us­ing a controversial coal mine to high­light the dam­age these projects are in­flict­ing on lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

The Shan Hu­man Rights Foun­da­tion (SHRF) on Au­gust 2 urged an im­me­di­ate sus­pen­sion of the Nam Ma coal mines in Shan State’s Thibaw/ Hsi­paw town­ship, where fight­ing has flared in re­cent months, as well as re­it­er­at­ing a call for sim­i­lar stop­pages at all other ex­trac­tion projects in ar­eas of eth­nic con­flict.

“Projects should only be re­con­sid­ered when a fed­eral peace set­tle­ment has been reached, grant­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties the right to de­cide over nat­u­ral resources in their ar­eas,” the SHRF said in a re­port.

Its re­port de­tailed a Tat­madaw of­fen­sive against the Shan State Pro­gres­sive Party (SSPP), an eth­nic armed group, in May that led to ar­bi­trary ar­rests, tor­ture and killing of lo­cal civil­ians. The mil­i­tary move, near the Nam Ma coal mines, left “no doubt that a main aim of the of­fen­sive was to safe­guard the min­ing oper­a­tions”, the SHRF said.

The re­port adds to grow­ing scru­tiny of the min­ing op­er­a­tion. On April 1, hun­dreds of vil­lagers gath­ered at a tem­ple in the Nam Ma area to protest the coal ex­trac­tion and de­mand that it be put to a stop.

Ac­cord­ing to the SHRF, that lo­cal op­po­si­tion caught the at­ten­tion of the SSPP, which sent of­fi­cers to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion at the min­ing site on May 17, one day be­fore the Tat­madaw launched its of­fen­sive to “drive out” the eth­nic armed group.

The May 18 as­sault in­cluded an ae­rial bom­bard­ment and more than 500 Tat­madaw troops, lead­ing over 1000 civil­ians to flee, mostly to the towns of Hsi­paw and Lashio.

Ques­tions about the mines were also raised last month in both the Shan State leg­is­la­ture and the Union­level lower house of par­lia­ment.

State MP Nang San San Aye (Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy; Hsi­paw 1) raised the is­sue on July 12, ask­ing whether the com­pany pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for the coal ex­ca­va­tion, Man­dalay-based Ngwe Yi Pale, had ob­tained an op­er­at­ing per­mit from the gov­ern­ment. She went on to ask whether it would be pos­si­ble to sus­pend any such con­tract.

The in­quiry was for­warded to the Union Min­istry for Nat­u­ral Resources and En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion.

“My ques­tion was unan­swered,” Nang San San Aye said. “The Hsi­paw Pyithu Hlut­taw MP is also try­ing to get an an­swer. We will keep do­ing what the peo­ple want and what the peo­ple asked for. We are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple, so we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

On Au­gust 1, Pyithu Hlut­taw law­maker Sai Thant Zin (SNLD; Hsi­paw) got his re­ply, be­ing told that the Ngwe Yi Pale com­pany ob­tained a per­mit in 2010 with a li­cence to op­er­ate the coal mine for 10 years.

That an­swer did not sat­isfy the lower house MP, who said the firm was op­er­at­ing the mine long be­fore it had re­ceived of­fi­cial ap­proval from the gov­ern­ment.

“Since 2004, the Man­dalay-based Ngwe Yi Pale com­pany be­gan work in the Nam Ma area. Ac­cord­ing to the re­ply, they just got a per­mit in 2010. And they didn’t get the per­mis­sion or agree­ment of the lo­cals, nor guar­an­tees or tests for the en­vi­ron­men­tal [im­pacts],” Sai Thant Zin said.

The SHRF re­port said min­ing at Nam Ma be­gan in the 1990s, at the time wholly car­ried out by the Tat­madaw. In 2004, Ngwe Yi Pale en­tered into a joint ven­ture with the sta­te­owned No 3 Min­ing En­ter­prise, be­com­ing the main ex­ca­va­tor.

“I heard that the rea­son be­hind the protest of the vil­lagers from Nam Ma was that the com­pany broke the prom­ises they made,” Sai Thant Zin said, adding that, “We have to con­sider both sides and keep try­ing not to bring suf­fer­ing to the lo­cals. We have plans to watch over the controversial coal project un­til it is cleared up.”

In ad­di­tion to fu­elling con­flict, the SHRF said the coal min­ing “has de­stroyed farm­lands, blocked and con­tam­i­nated wa­ter sources, and caused air pol­lu­tion, par­tic­u­larly im­pact­ing Pieng Hsai and Wan Long vil­lages. De­spite repeated com­plaints from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, Ngwe Yi Pale com­pany has con­tin­u­ously ex­panded its min­ing oper­a­tions.”

One of the key res­o­lu­tions to come out of the re­cent Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence, which brought to­gether some 800 par­tic­i­pants in Pan­g­long, Shan State, sim­i­larly called for the im­me­di­ate ces­sa­tion of ma­jor busi­ness projects in­volv­ing nat­u­ral resources in con­flict zones.

Photo: Staff

An earth-mover drives along a ridge of coal at Ti­gyit mine in Shan State.

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