MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Letpadaung farmers clash with police over grazing rights

Published by MAC on 2014-08-06
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma (2014-07-29)

Letpadaung farmers clash with police over grazing rights

Democratic Voice of Burma

29 July 2014

A number of security personnel and protesting villagers were injured in a skirmish between farmers and police near the Latpadaung copper mine on Sunday, when villagers attempted to herd cattle in the area against official orders.

The incident, which Burmese state media said resulted in the hospitalisation of five security personnel, began after dozens of villagers entered a fenced-off part of the controversial project site in central Burma's Sagaing Division. The New Light of Myanmar reported on Monday that the villagers attacked the guards with slingshots and rocks when they were told not to graze their cattle within the area.

The report said that the Salingyi Myoma police are pursuing legal action against the villagers who have denied allegations of both trespassing and assault, claiming that the grazing land in question still belonged to them.

"The police are not here to protect us, but to protect the interests of the UMEH [Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings] and Wanbao," said Aung Ko Oo, a resident of Mogyo Pyi Ale village. He said that locals had not yet agreed to a compensation scheme for the contested property, and that it had been unlawfully confiscated.

Aung Ko Oo added that the villagers requested permission to graze the land from a project liaison office on 23 July, but the township administrator issued a rejection notice.

After three days of failed negotiations, he said, the villagers went to the land and attempted to remove fences around the property, at which point they came under slingshot- fire by police assigned to guard the property.

He said that two villagers were also injured during the confrontation.

A township administrator, Zaw Myo Nyunt, denied that villagers were injured during the incident, and insisted that they were trespassing. He said that while police plan to pursue legal action, no one has yet been apprehended.

"It'll be hard to identify the attackers as they were hiding behind bushes, taking aim with slingshots at the police," he said. "At best, we will only be able to identify the leaders."

The Latpadaung copper mine has been the site of some of the fiercest opposition to corporate land-grabbing in Burma since the start of the reform process in 2011. The project began with a 1998 agreement between Wanbao - a subsidiary of Chinese weapons manufacturer Norinco - and Burma's state-owned UMEH.

Protests against the project, premised on local claims of land loss and environmental dest ruction, gained nationwide momentum in early 2012 as the mines became a symbol for both activists and Buddhists wishing to preserve the site's religious heritage.

Encampments set up near the site, which housed protestors for several months, were brutally dispersed in November 2012 by police in an early-morning crackdown. More than 100 people were seriously injured in the raid, some with burns caused by incendiary devices believed to contain white phosphorous.

Despite the harsh police response, opposition to the project has remained strong as claims of unlawful land acquisition continue to rise. Activists claim that the project accounts for the loss of more than 7,800 acres of land from 26 villages across the nearby mountain range.


Shan Minister Orders Halt to Environmentally Damaging Mining

By Nyein Nyein

The Irrawaddy

6 August 2014

The Shan State Minister of Mining and Forestry Sai Aik Pao on Tuesday ordered gold-mining companies in eastern Shan State's Tachileik Township to halt operations and compensate local farmers, whose land and water sources have been destroyed and polluted by waste from mining.

Maj. Min Htun Aung, an assistant to the minister, said firms mining for gold in an area near Na Hai Long village were informed of the order on Tuesday.

The minister announced the suspension during a meeting with affected villagers, state lawmakers, state administration officials and company representatives, he said, adding that Sai Aik Pao, who also heads the Shan Nationalities Development Party, visited the area on Wednesday.

"The minister is at the Na Hai Long area now to observe how much of the land has been destroyed, and he has instructed the local administrators to tackle the issue seriously," Min Htun Aung said, adding that authorities had been warning the firms to halt operations for several months.

According to local Shan farmers, 10 ten different companies have been carrying out gold mining in the Loi Kham hills since 2 007. They said the operations of four companies-Shwe Taung, Sai Titt, Sai Sidepyoyae and Loi Kham Long companies-had affected their farms and villages.

The firms pump water from Namkham stream and blast it at the hill sides during their mining operations, washing down huge amounts of waste and polluted water on to farmland and into streams.

Ethnic Shan villagers from Na Hai Long, Weng Manaw and Ganna villages in Talay sub-township have said that more than 300 acres of farmland can no longer be cultivated as they are covered in mining waste.

Some 90 households had lost much of their income because their farms had been damaged, they said, adding that streams used for drinking water, fishing and irrigation have been polluted.

In July, the farmers, with the help of the Shan Farmers' Network, launched a complaint with Shan State authorities, demanding an end to mining operations, financial compensation from the firms and restoration of their farmlands.

Nang Lar, a Na Hai Long villager who attended Tuesday's meeting, said the minister had listened to the communities' concerns and instructed company representatives to end mining operations and compensate affected farmers.

"The minister told us that the police would take action against them" if mining is not halted, she said, adding, however, that it remains to be seen whether the firms would follow the order as they had repeatedly ignored government warnings to do so in recent months.

"I visited the areas on Monday and I saw they [the companies] were still working in those mines," Nang Lar said.

The Shan Herald Agency for News reported on Wednesday that the mining firms had been ordered to pay about US$670 in compensation to villagers for every acre of completely destroyed farmland. The report said Tachileik Township administration officials would measure how much land each farmer had lost.

Minister Sai Aik Pao could not be reached for comment.


Burmese Among Victims of Massive Jade Scam in China

Echo Hui

The Irrawaddy

8 August 2014

HONG KONG - Hundreds of people, including Burmese jade dealers, have seen their fortunes vanish in a scam described as the biggest jade fraud case in the history of the People's Republic of China, police in the country's southwest have revealed.

Up to 1 billion yuan (US$160 million) worth of jade treasures were taken by a 33-year-old Chinese conman named Zhong Xiong over the past few months, according to Chinese police's preliminary investigation.

"Overall, what he did was to find a hole in the cross border trade and present himself as a rich man to approach potential dealers who were desperate to sell their products," according to one jade dealer surnamed Xie, who said he was approached by Zhong.

Every year, a large number of raw jade stones are shipped to Yunnan province from neighboring Burma. Burmese ja de is considered to be the world's highest quality, and the jade trade between the two countries-much of it illicit-was estimated at $8 billion in 2011 by the Harvard Ash Center.

After being crafted by artisans, a variety of valuable jade pieces stream into the Chinese market. In the jewelry industry, it is common to lend or exchange inventory on an informal basis, giving customers more choice and products more exposure to potential buyers.

Zhong is said to have told victims that he knew wealthy clients in Shanghai and Beijing who wanted artifacts made from the highest quality jade. But after collecting the jade items, Zhong disappeared without paying for them, the Oriental Morning Post reported.

According to police, Zhong presented himself as a man of immense wealth, living an extravagant lifestyle and driving flashy cars. By wining and dining other gems dealers, he quickly befriended local merchants.

Revelations of the scam come at a time when China's jade market has shrunk sharply. Police believe jewelry traders and individual lenders facing a business downturn were lured by the promise of a huge backlog of jade to be sold.

The scam has damaged the trust between Burmese and Chinese jade traders-relations built over decades of doing business together.

"In this industry, dealers are relying on their own personal credit. They have to deal with some middlemen to sell the product," said Xie. "Zhong presented himself as a generous man, so nobody suspected he might be a fraud.

"It must have been planned for a long time. For a scam of such scale, it needed to be well prepared for years, gaining trust step by step."

Sixty-seven victims had reported the scam to police by April. Zhong was arrested in May and is currently being held by authorities, awaiting trial.

The swindled come from major jade trading centers in Yunnan such as Kunming , Tengchong and Ruili, as well as other Chinese provinces and even across the border in Burma, according to Chinese reports. But the total victims could number in the hundreds, as most dealers borrow and lend jade items to others, including business partners in Burma.

Yang Yuan, who lost 27.32 million yuan, said he could no longer return home as most of the items came from business partners from Ruili and Burma. "They have been looking for me, and I have no money to pay them back," Yang told The Paper, a Mandarin-language daily.

Police have not yet disclosed a specific total value for the stolen goods, saying only that the amount is "huge." Reports have said the number could be north of 1 billion yuan. It is also unclear how many dealers from Burma were roped into the scam.

Xie said jade dealers would most certainly be more cautious in the future, but the trader remained optimistic about the jade market's future prospects.

"As the wealthy people in China gradually increase, the good days are just beginning," he said. "Twenty years ago, only people who lived in affluent areas like Hong Kong, Taiwan or Guangdong bought jade, but now there are buyers from every part of China."

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