Mine over­sight tight­ened

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SU PHYO WIN su­phy­owin@mm­times.com

The Tanintharyi gov­ern­ment will not is­sue any new min­ing li­cences un­til en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns have been re­solved at op­er­a­tional mines.

THE lo­cal gov­ern­ment in Myan­mar’s south­ern­most re­gion has said it will not is­sue any new min­ing li­cences un­til en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and con­tro­ver­sies have been re­solved at op­er­a­tional mines in the re­sourcerich area.

A num­ber of min­ing projects in Tanintharyi Re­gion have long been op­posed by lo­cal res­i­dents who have ac­cused their op­er­a­tors of pol­lut­ing wa­ter sup­plies and ru­in­ing farm­land.

U Myint Maung, Tanintharyi Re­gion min­is­ter for nat­u­ral re­sources and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, who is lead­ing a mine-scru­ti­n­is­ing group, said sev­eral com­pa­nies have bro­ken the terms of their con­tracts, flouted the Min­ing Law and caused en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

Un­til th­ese com­pa­nies start play­ing by the rules, they will find it very dif­fi­cult to ex­tend their li­cences, U Myint Maung said. Fur­ther, the re­gional gov­ern­ment will not sign any rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters for new min­ing op­er­a­tions un­til the ex­ist­ing play­ers clean up their acts.

“We want in­vest­ment, and we know that it is very im­por­tant for re­gional de­vel­op­ment,” he said. “We are not pay­ing at­ten­tion only to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, but all the op­er­a­tions in the re­gion have to re­duce their im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment as much as pos­si­ble,” he said.

More than 10 min­ing com­pa­nies have asked for per­mits to do busi­ness, he said, but for now the re­gional gov­ern­ment has not given any of them rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters.

In­stead, it will fo­cus on tack­ling long­stand­ing is­sues in the in­dus­try.

The lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s first two tar­gets were the Heinda and Bawapin tin mines, op­er­ated by Thai­land’s Myan­mar Pong­pi­pat Com­pany and Eastern Min­ing Com­pany, which were sus­pended in June.

U Khine Swan, man­ager at Heinda Tin Mine, said the com­pany is try­ing to meet the de­mands of the scru­ti­n­is­ing group, in the hope of be­ing able to restart op­er­a­tions as soon as pos­si­ble.

“We are pre­par­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pact as­sess­ments, which will take some time,” he said. “This sea­son is the peak time for min­ing and we are fac­ing big losses – we usu­ally mine at least 1 tonne of tin each day, even in the dry sea­son.”

The com­pany em­ploys more than 300 on-site work­ers, he said, adding, “Min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties will nat­u­rally have an im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment. That is not so strange, if you con­sider the na­ture of the busi­ness.”

Myan­mar Pong­pi­pat has been op­er­at­ing the mine since 1999. It first clashed with lo­cal res­i­dents af­ter block­ing nearby Myaung Byo Creek with a bar­rier, caus­ing wa­ter lev­els to rise. Even­tu­ally the creek broke its banks and thick waves of sed­i­ment and waste from the mine were de­posited into houses, plan­ta­tions and sources of fresh wa­ter.

U Myint Maung said the mine-scru­ti­n­is­ing group will even­tu­ally cover the whole re­gion, and is pri­ori­tis­ing projects based on the num­ber of com­plaints from lo­cal res­i­dents.

In nearby Kan­bauk vil­lage, res­i­dents say they have asked tin and tung­sten miner Delco to com­ply with min­ing laws and not to harm the en­vi­ron­ment.

Delco is the largest min­ing com­pany in Myan­mar, but has ap­par­ently not yet re­ceived any di­rec­tion from the re­gional gov­ern­ment or No 2 Min­ing En­ter­prise on whether it can con­tinue op­er­a­tions, said U Aung Lwin, a mem­ber of Kan­bauk Re­sources Sur­vival Group.

“We have not seen any di­rec­tion from the gov­ern­ment to Delco, and we are plan­ning to ar­range a meet­ing with the chief min­is­ter so that lo­cal peo­ple can share their suf­fer­ing in this area,” he said.

Delco re­sumed op­er­a­tions ear­lier this year at the site where a child died and homes were de­stroyed by a flood of sludge last year.

The com­pany has now told seven vil­lagers to leave their houses and plan­ta­tions around the min­ing area and has threat­ened le­gal ac­tion against them for tres­pass­ing.

U Saung Khaw, Delco’s gen­eral man­ager, told The Myan­mar Times that the res­i­dents were sup­posed to leave by the end of July.

“We hope it will be re­solved soon. This whole Kan­bauk area has been used for min­ing for many years and we have a land-lease con­tract from the gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Five of the seven vil­lagers have ac­cepted money and the other two are still ne­go­ti­at­ing, be­cause the amount of­fered is too low, said U Aung Lwin.

Lawyer Daw Aye Mon Thu, who briefed vil­lagers on their rights at a pub­lic sem­i­nar in Kan­bauk last month, said lo­cal res­i­dents of­ten lose out in sit­u­a­tions like this.

“Vil­lagers should not lose ev­ery­thing they own just be­cause they do not have a certificate of land own­er­ship ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment,” she said.

“Even if they do not have a certificate, they still have ev­i­dence that they were plant­ing in the area be­fore the com­pany started op­er­at­ing.”

Most law­suits brought by com­pa­nies against lo­cal peo­ple are based on sec­tions 427 and 447 of the Pe­nal Code, which re­fer to “mis­chief caus­ing dam­age” and tres­pass­ing, and vil­lagers of­ten lose the case, be­cause they lack land own­er­ship cer­tifi­cates, she said.

U Saung Khaw said the gov­ern­ment should not stop min­ing op­er­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly in Tanintharyi Re­gion where min­ing a ma­jor in­dus­try.

“The Min­ing Law men­tions that vil­lagers must re­lo­cate if the com­pany ex­tends its op­er­a­tions within the min­ing area. This area has been mined since 1911,” he said.

“If we don’t see our per­mit ex­tended in 2020 it would be a great shame as we are try­ing to fol­low the rules and reg­u­la­tions set by the dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments.”

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