MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma's war over jade - is there a Chinese link?

Published by MAC on 2015-02-07
Source: Mizzima News, The Irrawaddy, New York Times (2015-02-04)

The Burmese regime is refusing to step in to halt a growing conflict over jade mining which has reportedly forced thousands of civilians to seek refuge in local churches.

Its main opponent is the Kachin Liberation Army (KIA) and residents, said to be looting companies licenced by the government to mine their local areas.

An editorial in the January 26 edition of The New York Times, has accused China of "unleashing a wholesale looting" of Burma's natural resources. It singles out the KIA for taking a "cut of some the jade trade" with China.

The article has triggered an angry  response from China's Foreign Ministry  which said the paper was "maliciously provoking strife" between the two countries.

Amnesty International is to publish on February 19th a report exposing human rights violations at the Letpadaung copper mine, the most significant example of Chinese collaboration with the Burmese military in a mining enterprise.

Meanwhile, another group of "rebels"  has stated that it will not permit a coal-fired power station to be built in Mon state, even though the state's Chief Minister backs the proposal.

Jade mining to continue despite conflict, ministry says -- Kyaw Hsu Mon

The Irrawaddy

23 January 2015
 
Jade mining operations in northern Burma’s Kachin State will not be officially halted due to ongoing conflict in the area, according to a Ministry of Mines official.
 
Fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) intensified in areas near Hpakant last week, causing thousands of civilians to flee and seek shelter in nearby churches.
 
“So far, we don’t plan to stop jade mining operations due to recent fights,” Assistant Director of the Ministry of Mines Min Thu told The Irrawaddy on Friday. The official added that operators have been advised to extend their licenses no later than Feb. 11.
 
“There will be new plots for new mining companies to work there, and we encourage recently licensed companies to extend their permits soon,” he added. The ministry grants three-year concessions for a fee of 300,000 kyats (US$300).
 
Jade mining in the area was suspended in 2012 following the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA, an ethnic armed group fighting for greater autonomy in the resource-rich state.
 
Mines reopened in September 2014 amid growing concerns about armed conflict in the militarized area.
 
According to a senior official from the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise, prior to the 2012 suspension there were about 700 companies mining in Hpakant and Lone Khin townships. He could not speculate on the number of mines that are currently in operation since licensing resumed last year.
 
During the two-year hiatus, many of the area’s impoverished residents took to hand-picking stones in the vacated lots. Locals said that many people still practice small-scale mining and hand-picking within company grounds and in their waste heaps.
 
Picking on company grounds is illegal and often dangerous, but for many it is still worth the risk.
 
Local gems trader U Cho said local hand-pickers have targeted specific companies to loot and vandalize.
 
“Early this year, I heard the Kyaing International jade mining company was burned down by local hand-pickers. Someone said this company was owned by former Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s son, and he works with the Chinese so they burned it,” said U Cho.
 
Other mines have also been targeted by rogue civilians, including the Aung Hein Min mine in Mhawwangyi, he said. “The KIA told these companies to stop their operations because of the recent situation, that’s what I heard.”
 
The KIA is one of the only major ethnic armed groups in Burma that has not reached a bilateral pact with the government, even as negotiators continue their push for an inclusive, nationwide agreement to conclude the country’s myriad other insurgencies.
 
Kachin State is among the world’s last remaining sources of jade, and is also rich in other gems, minerals and valuable timber. Resource extraction has long been both a major cause and source of revenue for conflict in the remote ethnic state bordering China.
 


Explosion Injures Two in Hpakant

By Saw Yan Naing

The Irrawaddy

27 January 2015

Tensions remain high in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township after a bomb exploded in the town on Monday, injuring two people, according to local  sources.

The explosion occurred outside the Jade City Hotel, a well-known hotel in the downtown area of Hpakant, located near a military base of the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Division (LID) 66.

Shwe Thein, head of the Hpakant branch office of the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that local residents  are living in fear following the blast on Monday evening.

“The bomb went off around 6 pm,” he said. “It injured two people but no one died. Burma Army [soldiers] and police were deployed in the town.  They formed an emergency checkpoint at the entrance to Hpakant town and searched everyone who entered.”

Recent fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that broke out in the township on Jan. 15 forced up to 2,000 people to flee their homes, with many taking shelter in local churches.

Local residents are fearful that renewed fighting could erupt at any time. “We have to be on alert since the fighting broke out in Hpakant [on Jan. 15]. We live in worry,” Shwe Thein said.

The NLD official added that mining companies involved in the region’s lucrative jade industry were continuing to operate despite the instability, with Burma Army troops and police providing security.

Reverend Lama Yaw of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) told The Irrawaddy that the two men injured in Monday’s explosion were father and son.

“The bomb hit an old man and his son. We don’t know who is behind the explosion. But we also don’t think it will be disclosed,” Lama Yaw said.

On Jan. 15, a drive-by bombing involving an unknown motorcyclist at a police station in Lone Kin village, Hpakant Township, injured four family members of a police officer.

Local relief groups continue to voice concern for hundreds of villagers displaced in Hpakant with limited access to food, water and medical supplies. Some local sources have accused the military of using trapped villagers as human shields and forcibly conscripting some men into the Burma Army.

“We heard some 80 villagers, all men, were forced to go with Burma Army troops when they attacked the KIA recently,” Zua Naw of Tat Kaung  Church in Myitkyina told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Fresh fighting between Burma Army troops and allied forces of the KIA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) also occurred in northern Shan State’s Namkham and Kutkai townships over the past few days, according to rebel sources.

TNLA spokesperson Mai Aie Kyaw confirmed to The Irrawaddy that fighting had broken out on Sunday and continued sporadically until noon on Tuesday.

Mai Aie Kyaw said government troops attacked TNLA forces when the latter group attempted to destroy a poppy plantation in an area of Namkham Township controlled by the Pansay militia, an influential local militia led by Kyaw Myint, a state-lev el parliamentarian from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

According to the TNLA’s information department, fighting in Namkham Township on Tuesday began around 8 am between TNLA Battalion 478 and Burma Army units from LID 88. No causalities have yet been reported.

The KIA and the TNLA are the only two major ethnic armed groups that have not signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government.


The plunder of Myanmar

The Editorial Board - The New York Times

26 January 2015

China’s exploding appetites have unleashed a wholesale looting of Myanmar’s valuable natural resources. While this often involves outright theft, it also comes in the form of crony capitalism. Myanmar’s military elite has deals with Chinese companies that are eager to exploit the land, with little concern for the environment or people. The Kachin Independence Army, a rebel group that controls part of northeastern Myanmar, also takes a cut of some of this trade with China, especially jade hacked out of the earth by impoverished, heroin-addicted laborers.

This week, Chinese government officials were in Myanmar to investigate the detention of Chinese citizens suspected of illegal logging. Illegal timber sales to China, especially of Myanmar’s dwindling stocks of rosewood, have been a big problem, with the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nongovernmental group, warning that the trees could be extinct within three years.

China’s insatiable demand for tiger and leopard parts, bear bile and pangolins has helped to transform the town of Mong La, near the Chinese border, into a seedy center of animal trafficking, prostitution and gambling. Myanmar’s tiger population is by most estimates less than 70.

The pursuit of the valuable copper deposits in the country, formerly called Burma, has led to violence against Burmese who dare to object to the environmental and human costs. In 2012, the Myanmar po lice apparently used white phosphorus smoke bombs, usually reserved for warfare, to quell protesters angry over evictions to make room for the Letpadaung copper mine in central Myanmar, a joint venture between China’s Wanbao Mining company and the Myanmar military’s business arm. Last month, police officers opened fire on residents who were protesting evictions in the area, killing one woman with a shot to the head.

The people of Myanmar — as the protests make clear — want this plunder stopped. The country needs foreign investment that is respectful of human rights and the environment. It will be up to President Thein Sein to rein in the corruption and crony deals that are stripping away resources and creating political instability.


China raps ‘distorted’

Mizzima News

28 January 2015

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Ms Hua Chunying called a New York Times editorial, entitled "The plunder of Myanmar," a distortion of the facts, according to a report in Xinhua on January 27.
 
The New York Times editorial published on January 23 said China was responsible for the wholesale looting of Myanmar's natural resources.
 
"We firmly disagree with the editorial," Ms Hua said, adding the article maliciously provoked strife between China and Myanmar.
 
China was plundering Myanmar, according to the US newspaper.
 
“China’s exploding appetites have unleashed a wholesale looting of Myanmar’s valuable natural resources. While this often involves outright theft, it also comes in the form of crony capitalism. Myanmar’s military elite has deals with Chinese companies that are eager to exploit the land, with little concern for the environment or people. The Kachin Ind ependence Army, a rebel group that controls part of northeastern Myanmar, also takes a cut of some of this trade with China, especially jade hacked out of the earth by impoverished, heroin-addicted laborers,” the New York Times editorial says.
 
The newspaper notes the illegal trade in rosewood and tiger parts, claiming "the people of Myanmar want this plunder stopped." It says the country needs foreign investment that is respectful of human rights and the environment.
 
Ms Hua said China has always been opposed to illegal logging, illegal mining and illegal wildlife trade.
 
"We are committed to strengthening cooperation with our neighbours, including Myanmar, to tackle illegal activities, protect natural environment and safeguard the stability of border areas," she told Xinhua, China’s official press agency.
 
The Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said China has always required Chinese nationals and enterprises abroad to abide by local laws and regulations, protect the environment and bring benefits to local people.
 
But Ms Hua herself told media on January 21 that 155 Chinese had been detained in Myanmar’s Kachin State for what U Zaw Htay, presidential spokesperson told AFP was inline “with immigration acts and forestry laws."


Mon Rebels Prohibit Controversial Coal Plant

By Lawi Weng

The Irrawaddy

28 January 2015
 
RANGOON — Ethnic rebels in Mon State announced on Tuesday that they will not allow a proposed coal-fired power plant to be built in the southeastern state.

The proposed 1,280 megawatt power plant was first proposed during a preliminary consultation with local communities in Ye Township in April 2014.

The project, which locals found confusing and potentially dangerous, was expected to be built in Inn Din village at a cost of about US$2.7 billion.

Details about the development are scarce, but local communities and the state’s ethnic leadership voiced skepticism about claims that it would benefit local communities, positing instead that most or all of the energy produced would be exported to neighboring Thailand.

In the latest bid to stop the development, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), and its armed counterpart, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), issued a statement arguing that the state’s political situation remains unstable and unsuitable for such a development.

Nai Hongsar Bong Khaing, a spokesperson for the NMSP based in the state capital Moulmein, told The Irrawaddy that allowing the development to proceed would contravene party rules on three counts: political instability is too risky for large-scale developments; local communities and religious leaders have not been adequately consulted; and environmental risks have not been analyzed to the party’s satisfaction.

“We found that the current political situation is not yet conducive to political dialogue. According to our party’s policy, we cannot let the company build this power plant until we have reached a political settlement,” said Nai Hongsar, adding that because the majority of lo cals oppose the project, “we have to make this decision.”

Any progress toward approval of the development would depend on the outcome of the peace process, he said, as talks geared toward a nationwide ceasefire agreement have stalled over disagreements between ethnic rebels and government actors.

The government has pushed for the project since early consultations began last year, but a series of meetings with the state’s ethnic politicians and communities were met with reproval and sometimes protest.

Mon State Chief Minister Ohn Myint, a member of the leading Union Solidarity and Development Party, met with the NMSP in 2014 to discuss the projects potential benefits in the poor and under-served state, where many still live without 24-hour access to electricity and pay high fees for basic services.

“[Ohn Myint] told us that the plant will benefit local development, and that the government would not allow the company to damage the environment,” said Nai Hongsar, in reference to their earlier conference. “But we are worried that our people will not get as many benefits as the minister said.”

On the national level, an ethnic Mon Upper House lawmaker, argued that the benefits outweigh potential risks, given the level of development in his home state. Nai Banyar Aung Moe’s constituency in Ye Township, he said, suffers a severe shortage of electricity resulting in high prices that hinder development.

“Normally [in areas served by the national grid], one unit of electricity costs 35 kyats ($0.35), but people in Ye have to pay 500,” he said. Ye Township is not yet connected to the national power grid, but Nai Banyar Aung Moe said the project could offer the energy needed for development.

“Unless we allow the building of coal power plants in our region, development will remain behind other countries. Our Mon people will be slave workers in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, because our country is poor,” he said, recalling what he viewed as a missed opportunity when the NMSP refused to allow development of a deep sea port in Moulmein, a proposal later rejiggered for a new location in Dawei.

Lower House lawmaker Mi Myint Than, who is also ethnic Mon, argued that the project could create jobs and offer a new course for development in the state, which is currently reliant on the China-controlled rubber trade.

“China controls the rubber prices,” she said, “but if there was electric power, Japanese companies would invest in our region.”

The NMSP was established in 1958 and remains Mon State’s dominant political party. Projects opposed by the party, such as the deep sea port, have been suspended in the past.

The NMSP’s armed wing, MNLA, has been at intermittent odds with the Burma Army, but secured a new ceasefire with the government in April 2012.


Rights group to ‘expose rights abuses in the Myanmar mining sector’ 

Mizzima News

28 January 2015

Amnesty International will launch what it calls a major new report on the Myanmar mining sector, exposing how the authorities and companies “collude to reap profits from human rights violations.”
 
In a January 27 press release, the international rights group announced it will hold a February 10 press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Bangkok to focus on serious problems concerning human rights and the environment said a press release on January 27.
 
The NGO said the report highlights how the Letpadaung copper mining project in central Myanmar has been marked by widespread rights abuses – including forced evictions of thousands of villagers, violent repression of protests and unchecked environmenta l damage.
 
Myanmar has come in for criticism from local and international rights and environmental groups over challenges in the extractive industry that have seen people pushed off their farming land and pollution of the environment.

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