State coun­sel­lor asked to in­ter­vene in spat with Chi­nese-backed nickel mine

The Myanmar Times - - News - KHIN SU WAI khin­suwai@mm­times.com

FARM­ERS who say their an­ces­tral lands were con­fis­cated for a Chi­ne­se­backed nickel-pro­cess­ing project are de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion. In their lat­est move in the long-run­ning dis­pute, they have asked State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to in­ter­vene.

Sa­gaing Re­gion Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber U Nay Win said the farm­ers had re­ceived po­lice per­mis­sion for a protest in­volv­ing 1000 farm­ers against the Ta­gaung Taung Nickel Project in Hti­gyaing town­ship. But at the re­quest of the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, they met with the com­pany on Septem­ber 15.

Though they raised ques­tions of job cre­ation, land com­pen­sa­tion, solid waste pol­lu­tion, the dis­missal of the fac­tory boss and is­sues around the trans­porta­tion of coal from Maung Kone port, none were re­solved, they said.

“We weren’t sat­is­fied with the out­come of the meet­ing,” said U Nay Win. “The com­pany said they had 1500 em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing 700 lo­cal res­i­dents, and asked if we wanted them to be dis­missed. They said the land in ques­tion was for­est, but we’ve been farm­ing it for 70 years.”

The farm­ers then sub­mit­ted their com­plaints to the Union and re­gional gov­ern­ments, and to the state coun­sel­lor.

The farm­ers have been protest­ing against the com­pany since 2012, with­out re­sult. The Ta­gaung Taung Nickel Mine signed a con­tract with China Non­fer­rous Metal Min­ing Co in Nay Pyi Taw in 2007. The project en­tailed the seizure of more than 3000 acres (1200 hectares) of land with crop com­pen­sa­tion of K50,000 an acre payable to 122 farm­ers – in­clud­ing 17 who had reg­is­tered their land – in five vil­lages of Maung Kone vil­lage tract.

“I was work­ing 8 acres. Some land had crops, some was ploughed. They just paid crop com­pen­sa­tion for 4.65 acres. We want land com­pen­sa­tion at cur­rent prices,” said cane farmer U Sein Min.

Farmer U Myint Hlaing, who has reg­is­tered his land own­er­ship, said the price of farm­land per acre was be­tween K10 mil­lion to K15 mil­lion, de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion, if fac­to­ries were to be built on the land. He said protests had taken place nearly every year since 2012.

“Apart from the 3086.66 acres seized by the Chi­nese min­ing com­pany, Htoo and Great Chan also took 25 acres each. The lo­cal au­thor­i­ties told us this was for­est land. But be­fore the Ta­gaung for­est area was recog­nised, our an­ces­tors farmed those lands,” U Nay Win told The Myan­mar Times.

About 33 vil­lage tracts in Hti­gyaing town­ship have joined the pro­test­ers, say­ing eight com­pa­nies have seized some 100,000 acres.

“Some of the lo­cal res­i­dents are afraid to speak out. We will deal with the nickel project first, then take up the other ques­tions,” said U Nay Win.

The lo­cal MP, U Thein Han (NLD; Hti­gyaing 2), said he would raise the mat­ter in the hlut­taw, adding, “It could take five years to reach a so­lu­tion.”

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