MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma is still burning

Published by MAC on 2015-05-27
Source: Irrawaddy, AFP, statements, WSJ, Myanmar Times

Six non-violent activists, who protested against the police killing of a women demonstrating against the Letpadaung copper gold mine last December, have each been jailed for more than four years.

Meanwhile, conditions at the Hpakant jade mines in Kachin have materially worsened, following government permission for them to re-open. 

In March this year, at least nine people went to their deaths when a huge pile of waste toppled down upon them in the same area. In both Kachin and Shan state, debate continues over whether the central government should control mineral resources, or cede ownership to local ethnic groups, some of which are engaged in armed confronation with the regime. Meanwhile a shadowy British company has applied for mineral leases in Kachin.

Where do local communities stand in this atmosphere of conflict over mineral riches? Virtually nowhere, it seems.

Those living close to a gold mining venture in the Sagaing region suffer as the local Chindwin river "chokes to death". Villagers from Dawai township in Karenni have found themselves threatened by the army for daring to protest against similar water pollution caused by another gold mine.

Although a lead mining company in Tenassarim Divison has said it will halt illegal disposal of waste into a nearby river, this is a highly unusual event. In any case it appears to have largely been triggered by complaints from a local army contingent.

So, is Burma moving decisively towards truly democratic forms of goverance that would justify the massive foreign investment it claims to require?

The answer is surely an emphatic "No".

Myanmar jails six activists who opposed copper mine: lawyer


15 May 2015

A Myanmar court sentenced six activists opposed to a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine to over four years in prison Friday, a lawyer in the case said.

The campaigners were arrested following December protests near the Chinese embassy in Yangon calling for the closure of the mine venture in the central town of Monywa, which has been dogged by complaints of land-grabbing and environmental damage.

"All six activists were sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment each," lawyer Robert San Aung, who represented five of the activists, told AFP.

He said the court found them guilty on charges including defying an order to disperse, disrupting the duty of a civil servant and protesting without permission.

Myanmar has earned international approval for political and economic reforms since the end of outright army rule in 2011.

But rights groups and the opposition have raised fears that the reforms are stalling, with arrests of dozens of protesters and signs of a squeeze on media freedoms .

The Letpadaung mine -- run by Chinese firm Wanbao as part of a joint venture with a major Myanmar military conglomerate --- has raised questions about Myanmar's reliance on investment from neighbouring China, which gave crucial political support to the former junta.

Protests in Yangon were sparked by the death of Khin Win, in her 50s, who was shot dead by police near the mine in December, during clashes with demonstrators trying to stop the mine company from building a fence in territory disputed with local farmers.

Authorities have yet to announce any prosecutions in the killing.

Police in March rejected a lawsuit by monks who suffered phosphorus burns at the hands of officers when they protested against the Letpadaung mine in 2012.

Robert San Aung said the activists had little faith in the country's court system, which was chronically undermined by decades of military control.

"They said they do not trust the judicial system here. They do not trust the government either," he said, adding they were unlikely to appeal.

Myanmar: Activists Imprisoned for Protesting

Amnesty International Urgent Action - UA 2/15, UPDATE 1, AI Index: ASA 16/1682/2015 (the original index number is ASA 16/001/2015 of 6 January 2015)

19 May 2015

Six human rights activists have been sentenced to four years and four months’ imprisonment in Myanmar solely for participating in a peaceful demonstration against the shooting to death of a protester. They must be immediately and unconditionally released.

On 15 May, human rights activists Naw Ohn Hla, San San Win (aka Lay Lay), Sein Htwe, Nay Myo Zin, Tin Htut Paing, and Than Swe, were sentenced to a total of four years and four months’ imprisonment by Dagon Township Court in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. They were sentenced for participating in a peaceful protest on 30 December 2014 which called on the Myanmar authorities to carry out an investigation into the death of Khin Win. She was shot dead on 22 December 2014 when police opened fire on her and other protesters demonstrating against land being taken over for the Letpadaung copper mine project in Sagaing region, central Myanmar.

The six activists were sentenced under a number of articles of the Penal Code, including “rioting” and for protesting without permission under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. Amnesty International considers these charges to be politically motivated and without foundation. The six activists are currently detained in Insein prison in Yangon.

Nay Myo Zin and Naw Ohn Hla are also facing additional charges for the same protest in four other township courts in Yangon, and could be sentenced to a further two years in prison if found guilty.

Please write again.

Address your appeals to
Chairman, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission:
U Win Mra
27 Pyay Road, Hline Township
Yangon, Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Fax: 011 95 1 659 668
Salutation: Dear Chairman

Chairman, Prisoners of Conscience Affairs Committee:
Br. Gen. Kyaw Kyaw Tun
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10
Nay Pyi Taw, Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Dear General

Please send a copy to
His Excellency Hau Do Suan Ambassador for Myanmar
336 Island Park Drive
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 0A7
Fax: (613) 232-6999
Email: meottawa[at]

Thein Sein
President’s Office
Nay Pyi Taw
Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Fax: 011 95 1 652 624
Additional information

Local communities and activists continue to oppose the development of the new Letpadaung copper mine because of concerns about environmental damage, risk of forced evictions and negative impacts on the communities' rights to housing, food, and work amongst other rights. The Myanmar authorities have responded to such opposition by using excessive force against peaceful protesters on several occasions and by resorting to arbitrary arrest and detention – both Naw Ohn Hla and Tin Htut Paing have in the past been arrested and detained for their peaceful demonstrations against the Letpadaung copper mine. In November 2012 police used white phosphorus against peaceful protesters, in an attack which left people with lifelong injuries. To date no one has been held to account for the attack.

Amnesty International has undertaken a detailed investigation into the Monywa mining project, of which the Letpadaung copper mine forms part. The investigation found a range of human rights abuses and illegal conduct linked to the project. Thousands of people have been forcibly evicted to make way for the project, and thousands more remain at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods due to ongoing development at the Letpadaung mine (See UA: Amnesty International is also concerned that Myanmar still lacks adequate safeguards to protect people from corporate human rights abuses. For further details, see Amnesty International, Open for business? Corporate crime and abuses at Myanmar copper mine: briefing, available at:

The Myanmar authorities continue to arrest and imprison activists and human rights defenders simply for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, rights which are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Amnesty International is concerned about a number of laws in Myanmar which restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which has been used to arrest and imprison scores of peaceful activists and human rights defenders since it was enacted in 2012.

The six activists were sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for protesting without permission under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, two years for publishing or circulating information which may cause public fear or alarm and may incite persons to commit offences "against the State or against the public tranquillity" (Section 505(b) of the Penal Code), one year for assaulting or preventing a public servant from the discharge of his duty (Section 353), and one year for “rioting” (Section 147).

Amnesty International continues to receive reports about poor prison conditions in Myanmar, which do not comply with international standards such as those set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. These concerns include a lack of access to adequate medical treatment, clean drinking water, nutritious food and water for bathing.

Kachin MP calls for urgent government intervention on Hpakant jade mines – Kyaw Hsu Mon

The Irrawaddy

20 May 2015

A Union Parliament lawmaker from Kachin State has called for an urgent overhaul of mining in Hpakant, home to the world’s most lucrative sources of jade, over local concerns about the environmental impact of the industry.

Hkyet Hting Nan, an Upper House MP and member of the ruling Un ion Solidarity and Development Party, said that mining companies had continued to behave irresponsibly since jade production resumed in March, and suggested that a government takeover of the mines might be necessary to stop environmental damage.

“I submitted a proposal for government control of Hpakant jade mines in 2012,” he told The Irrawaddy. “Hpakant is suffering at the moment. There are soil heaps everywhere, and residents are falling victim to landslides and flooding.”

Bauk Ja, the Hpakant Township chairman of Kachin State National Democratic Force, backed Hkyet Hting Nan’s claims, saying that slipshod practices by various mine operators had posed various hazards to locals.

“These companies left soil waste around Hpakant where residents were living,” she said. “Jade mines opened up big holes in the ground and the roads were worn down from the number of trucks coming to and from the mines. Residents are facing constant accidents an d transport problems.”

Kachin State is among the world’s last remaining sources of jade. About 90 percent of the world’s jadeite is now mined around the Hpakant area and predominantly sold to clients from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Jade mining was suspended in 2012 after the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army the previous year. After the government approved the resumption of mining operations in late 2014, mining companies renewed their licenses and restarted the mines, halting temporarily earlier this year when renewed fighting broke out before a full resumption in March.

The industry has returned with a vengeance, according to locals, who said that more powerful equipment and machinery is being used in the mines compared to 2012. Companies have reportedly scheduling round-the-clock shifts to make up for the two-year production halt.

Accidents related to the mining industry remain commonplace. In early January, at least eight people illegally fossicking in one of Hpakant’s disused mining areas were killed by a rockslide, according to locals. At least 100 people are estimated to have died in similar occurrences over the past five years.

Hkyet Hting Nan said he believed the government was holding off from a discussion on regulating the industry to allow miners to get back on their feet.

“We know that it’s still a short time since the companies resumed their work,” he said. “If we restricted them before, they might have had financial problems as they invested a lot in their operations. I think that’s why parliament is waiting for a good time to discuss.”

Bauk Ja said she supported Hkyet Hting Nan’s calls for urgent intervention in the local mining industry.

“The Hpakant area is getting worse year by year due to these extreme jade mines,” she said. “Companies are saying they will focus on e nvironmental concerns, but it’s not happening. I want the government to take action as soon as possible.”

Min Thu, assistant director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, a branch of the Ministry of Mines, said that issues concerning environmental protection had already been written into production contracts negotiated between miners and the government.

“Now we’re encouraging to companies to emphasize environmental concerns, and requesting them to do so in a fast manner,” he said.

The core issues not addressed

Berti l Lintner

The Irrawaddy

5 May 2015

The euphoria knew no bounds in certain quarters when, on March 31, it was announced that a text had been drafted for a proposed ceasefire agreement between the government and some ethnic resistance armies.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Swiss-based peace and reconciliation outfit, hailed it “the most comprehensive ceasefire agreement in Myanmar’s history,” if ratified, which “will set the stage for resolving the longest-running conflict in Southeast Asia.”

Vijay Nambiar, special advisor on Myanmar to the Secretary General of the United Nations, also called the drafting of the proposal “historic” and UNICEF even suggested that it “could be the dawn of a new time of progress for the most disadvantaged children in Myanmar.”

More levelheaded observers pointed out that the event was nothing more than a small step in a long, hard process, and that not all groups are on board.

Nai Hong Sar, an ethni c Mon speaking for the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), emphasized in an interview with Voice of America’s Myanmar-language news site that the signing of a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) “can’t be decided by the NCCT” but only after the ethnic leaders’ summit meeting.

Leaders at the summit “might like to alter or make some addition to the agreement,” he said. “And only after deliberation and confirmation, will they be officially ready to sign the agreement.”

Khun Okkar, an ethnic Pa-O NCCT representative, said in an interview with The Irrawaddy that the NCA cannot be signed while there is conflict in Kachin State and the Kokang Special Region.

“[The NCA] can only be signed when [the country] is stable,” he said. “We will be a joke if we sign while fighting is ongoing. And other [ethnic] groups will not be satisfied.”

So much ado about nothing, then.

And while the foreign peacemakers were con gratulating themselves in Naypyitaw and Yangon, the reality on the ground remained depressingly familiar. Airstrikes and other attacks were continuing against Kachin and Palaung rebel forces in the north and northeast.

Conflict Continues

According to a March 29 statement issued by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Palaung State Liberation Front, “Whilst the NCCT and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) were holding talks for the NCA draft, the Burma Army launched offensives in northern Shan State and fierce battles continued.”

The Free Burma Rangers reported on April 1 that despite the potential ceasefire agreement, in Kachin State “incidents of aggression by the Burma Army have increased to levels not seen since initial fighting in 2011.”

In Kokang, an area in northeastern Shan State mostly inhabited by ethnic Chinese, heavy fighting also continued with the government launching airstrikes and bombarding suspected rebel positions with 155 mm Howitzers and 122 mm truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers.

The ultimate irony is that Myanmar has seen the heaviest fighting in decades—after the present government came to power in March 2011 and opened its Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in November 2012.

Fighting peaked in late 2012 and early 2013 with a major offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) followed this year by a massive air war in Kokang. Myanmar’s civil war has not been this intense since the government launched offensives against ethnic Karen and communist forces in the late 1980s.

Democratic Voice of Burma reported on April 4 that fighting between government troops and the Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, had tapered off “for at least a day” after the agreement on the draft NCA.

However, according to sources on the ground, that lull in the fighting h ad nothing to do with talks in Yangon. “The government’s side is just rearranging the deployment of its forces, and trying to solve logistical problems,” said a source close to the war in Kokang.

Fighting is expected to intensify before the rainy season sets in at the end of May as the Myanmar Army consolidates its positions and works to secure long and potentially vulnerable supply lines from the Myanmar lowlands to the warzones in the mountainous north and northeast.

Professional Peacemakers

Insights into the actual situation on the ground have never been the strong suit of the foreign peacemakers. The term “military-industrial complex” is often used to describe a network of defense contracts, flows of money and resources among individuals, institutions and various government agencies in the United States.

Myanmar now, it seems, has its own “peace-industrial complex” with an abundance of foreign NGOs, supported by massive grants from the European Union, the governments of Norway, Switzerland and Canada, and the involvement of representatives of the UN as well as regional and international bodies.

“Peacemaking” has become a lucrative business in Myanmar, with little or no regard for the suffering of ordinary people in the country’s warzones. Many people working for, for instance, the MPC earn in a month what an ordinary Myanmar citizen would make in five years or more.

A foreign human rights activist familiar with the situation in the frontier areas described the foreign-dominated peace industry as “a cabal of carpetbaggers and conmen whose real contribution to the peace process is shrouded in self-laudatory assessments that have no basis in reality.”

Among the many misrepresentations floated by the peace-industrial complex is that the civil war is actually about money and control of business opportunities. This attempt at depoliticizing the conflict may serve to cover up the failure of the foreign peacemakers, but it is also a very dangerous way of looking at the problem.

There has not been an ongoing civil war in Myanmar, virtually since independence in 1948, simply because some people want to control the trade in jade, precious stones or timber.

Naturally, the people living in non-Bamar areas want their fair share of the natural resources in their respective regions once peace and normalcy have been restored. The government is also interested in collecting revenues from any kind of activity in the country. But the essence of the conflict since 1948 has centered on what kind of country Myanmar should be: a unitary nation or a federal union. The issues are political, not based on private business interests.

Even a well-respected news organization like IHS Jane’s issued a report on March 25 headlined “Mining industry fuels Myanmar civil conflict” which went on to claim that “jade has h istorically been a driver of conflict” between the Myanmar Army and the KIA.

These two forces are supposed to be battling “for control over lucrative mining operations” with both having “historically launched attacks on mining operations in order to reassert control over the strategic resource.”

This is complete balderdash.

No one has attacked “mining operations” which in any case are carried out by private entrepreneurs and contractors, not by the KIA or the government. Taxation on the trade, however, has provided the KIA with an income and the government gets its revenues from those contractors. This can be collected by both or either in cash or in kind. If the latter, raw jade can then be sold to generate income.

The Profits of Peace

Some foreign analysts have also suggested that those opposed to, or critical of, the NCA are holding this position because they are profiting from the war, while a peaceful solu tion to the conflict would put an end to their money-making activities. This is twisted logic, to say the least.

Local rebel commanders who have entered into ceasefire agreements with the government have invariably got, in return, profitable business opportunities—once they have stopped fighting.

A typical example is Zahkung Ting Ying, who once commanded a local unit of the now defunct Communist Party of Burma in eastern Kachin State. He made peace with the government in 1989, and his group immediately began exporting vast quantities of timber to China.

Today, his group is running a gun factory, capable of producing automatic rifles, pistols, revolvers and shotguns, which are sold mainly to ethnic rebel forces in India’s volatile northeastern region. With all the forest now gone, the people in the area are growing opium poppies and there is also a heroin refinery near Ting Ying’s headquarters at Pangwa.

Zahkung Ting Ying is also the only former communist who is a member of the Upper House of Myanmar’s parliament.

Karen rebel leaders, who entered into ceasefire deals with the government in January 2012, were subsequently granted licenses to import cars from Thailand and to run other businesses in eastern and southeastern Myanmar.

The KIA, when it had a ceasefire agreement with the government from 1994, was also able to run all kinds of businesses. That arrangement ended with the outbreak of hostilities in June 2011, three months after ex-general U Thein Sein became president.

If the KIA’s, or any other ethnic resistance army’s, main interest were to make money, they should sign the NCA today.

Political Solutions

What Myanmar really needs is not hordes of foreign peacemakers, or an NCA—which will only freeze the problem, not solve it—but to address the issue of why tens of thousands of people in the non-Bamar areas of the country h ave resorted to decades-long armed struggle.

That would entail political talks now, not after the signing of an NCA, which many see as a trap. The ruse, or “con,” of the current agreement is that, once signed into law, the ethnic resistance armies will be neutralized.

The military has always insisted that its duty is to defend the 2008 Constitution, and every party—including the armed groups—has to pay allegiance to that charter. Political talks can then be held in the parliament, the argument goes.

With the presence of the peace-industrial complex in the country, the military has been spared from the task of persuading the ethnic resistance armies to surrender, which is what the NCA effectively amounts to.

But if that fails, which seems likely, the foreign peacemakers can always carry on to another conflict zone in the Middle East, Africa or some other place on the globe—and leave a mess behind in Myanmar.

This article originally appeared in the May. 2015 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.

Lead mine halts production on water pollution fears – Yen Snaing

The Irrawaddy

18 May 205

A lead mine near Tenasserim Division’s Kalonehtar village has temporarily ceased operations after villagers asked the mine’s owner’s to stop polluting the area’s only water source.

Over 100 villagers visited the mine on Saturday to request the company halt producti on. The mine’s waste products, disposed of nearby, had earlier this year begun to make their way into the Talaingyar stream after soaking into the topsoil at a dumpsite.

Tin Than, a midwife living in the village, said that locals were concerned the polluted water would damage nearby orchards once the rainy season begins.

“The downstream water has become muddy now and we can’t catch fish anymore,” she told The Irrawaddy. “We asked them to stop their work until they fix the damage caused to the village.”

Villagers have requested that the company improves its waste management practices and builds a filtered water tank in Kalonehtar, home to about 200 households. The 407th Burma Army Battalion, stationed nearby, has also approached the company about the polluted stream, which it relies upon for bathing, drinking and cooking.

“The soil and other waste from the mine is like a mountain now,” said Ye Lin Myint of the Dawei Developm ent Association. “When it rains, this soil will block the stream and change the water flow. The orchards owned by the villagers will be lost… The company is using diesel and coal tar in the mine, and the waste water is being disposed of in the stream as well.”

Sein Myint, a retired deputy director of the Ministry of Mines, said that the country’s laws explicitly forbade disposing of mining chemicals into the water table, and companies were required to filter wastewater until it was no longer harmful to human beings.

“We have to check who has allowed throwing chemicals directly into the stream,” he told The Irrawaddy. “A systematic disposal plan is required by the ministry.”

The mine has been run by the ANA&NRD Company since 2000 and is scheduled to operate until next year. Kalonehtar itself has been included in the project area for the Dawei Special Economic Zone, with plans to build a water reservoir to supply the development. Vill agers have opposed the plan, concerned about the risk of flooding.

Myanmar’s mining reforms stall, hindering foreign investment

Shibani Mahtani

The Wall Street Journal

13 May 2015

A new mining law that would clarify rules and ease restrictions for foreign investors looking to tap into the lucrative sector remains frozen in Myanmar’s legislature, said an official from the country’s Ministry of Mines.

The law, which was proposed more than two years ago, is still being debated by Myanmar’s parliament said Win Htein, the director general of the ministry. “[Lawmakers] have not been able to come to a decision on resource sharing,” added Win Htein.

Ethnic minority representatives, he said, have pushed for greater controls over resources in their states, but others have resisted and would rather keep precious gems, jade and other valuable assets under central government control. These minerals are largely concentrated in ethnic minority regions like Kachin and Shan states, where armed ethnic groups continue to clash with government troops, in part over resources.

The delayed law—considered a crucial precursor to foreign investors’ entering Myanmar’s mining sector —highlights the continued difficulty for large foreign companies hoping to extract the country’s rich deposits of minerals and precious stones. Although reforms geared toward opening the country’s once-military-dominated economy to outsiders have been under way for over four years, key components such as the mining law still remain in deadlock.

Myanmar’s current mining law dates back to 1994. It includes no protections for foreign investors and shuts them out of important sectors such as coal and gold, forcing foreigners to partner with local companies if they are interested in these materials. It also includes a clause that states that the government is entitled to a share of the production—even though the private sector has to put up all the investment for the project—and entitles the government to additional loyalties and taxes.

The new law, if passed, will also clarify the legal framework under which foreign and local companies can mine in Myanm ar. Human rights watchdogs and local residents claim the land for these mines, handed out under previous regimes, was often procured through land grabbing.

Tensions over land rights came to head at a copper mine in Monywa, central Myanmar, operated by a Chinese state-owned firm. Residents say they were evicted from their land without adequate compensation, and some continue to resist the project, even after a public relations and social spending push from the company, Wanbao Mining.

Mining is the fifth-largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Myanmar. Win Htein said that the source of this investment still largely comes from Myanmar’s neighbors, including China and Thailand, and he would like to see more Western companies invest in the sector. “We understand that changing this law is a prerequisite for more foreign companies to come into the country,” he said, adding that he hopes the law will be passed before the end of this year.

Analysts have warned foreign investors against hoping for any major legislative change before Myanmar’s upcoming general elections, scheduled for this November.

For businesses in Myanmar, the promise is unfulfilled – Nathan Vanderklippe

The Globe and Mail

5 May 2105

Six years ago, Jon North started collecting data on Myanmar. He bought maps, secured satellite imagery and started scouting. He has travelled the wo rld kicking rocks, and liked what he saw in the Southeast Asian nation.

A banana-shaped arc of young volcanic rock curves through the Southwest Pacific, and its gold deposits have fed rich mines in the Philippines, Java and Sumatra. Those very same rocks “make landfall in downtown Rangoon – and the geology goes all the way up the middle of Burma to the Indian border,” says Mr. North, the president of Toronto-based junior mining explorer Northquest Ltd.

Surprise rate cuts this week have brought more Asian central banks into the global easing spree, but worries remain about how these economies will fare when the Fed bucks the trend and raises rates. Meg Teckman reports.

His is among a crush of companies drawn to Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, for the resources and labour coming out of seclusion after a long period of isolation. But for foreign investors, entering Myanmar has meant entering a land with a byzantine web of dated regulations, a cloistered business sector tightly interwoven with the military and, in some cases, no proper rules at all.

But it’s also among the fastest-growing countries on Earth – with an 8.5-per-cent increase in gross domestic product last year, and a government forecast of 9.3 per cent this year – and the kind of place that can make a miner salivate. Take the shimmering Shwedagon Pagoda, the landmark that towers over Rangoon, a talisman of good fortune that is made with an estimated 60 tonnes of gold.

“It’s gold-plated, not gold foil,” Mr. North says. “That’s all placer gold that was mined in Burma. And that gold ha s to come from some bedrock source – some local bedrock.”

So when Canada dropped its heavy economic sanctions against Myanmar in 2012, Mr. North was ready to move. He got on a plane, and spent a few weeks in the country. A few months later, he was back, renting a car and hiring some local geologists to trek across Myanmar’s potholed back roads. “We saw some things that we really were interested in,” he said.

But then the questions started. Myanmar has no modern mining law, unlike just about any other country on Earth. That means it’s not clear what rights a mining company might have to land it wants, what tax rate it might face, how much in royalties it would pay or even whether it could pay executive salaries to foreign professionals.

More than three years later, those questions remain unanswered. Myanmar has the draft text for a new mining act, but its military controlled parliament has been unable to pass it amid wrangling over how resource revenues will be shared. Investors won’t put money into a project when they don’t know what they’re getting into.

So Mr. North waits.

For miners, as for many other would-be investors, the great expectations that accompanied the opening up of Myanmar have soured, falling victim to the realities of a country whose long isolation cannot be overcome in short order. It is a study in the hardships that often accompany business on the edge – and Myanmar has been called one of Earth’s last frontiers.

“It’s got terrible infrastructure, it’s got an unclear and inconsistently applied regulatory environment, a very difficult import-export regime. It’s got extreme costs of residential and commercial real estate,” said Josh Brown, chief Myanmar representative for Tractus Asia, a business advisory firm. “All of the sewage [infrastructure] is 100 years old, so the streets flood in the rainy season up to your knees.” Change, he said, “is not going to happen overnight.”

When Myanmar suddenly ended its half-century of isolation and military dictatorship in 2010, the global business community took notice. With a population of 51 million, the Texas-sized country occupies a sprawling river valley that borders India, China and Thailand. With the Himalayas to the north and the Andaman Sea to the south, it was once one of the world’s top rice exporters and its mineral bounty has supported a thriving illegal jade trade, as well as a controversial copper mine once operated by Canadian mining promoter Robert Friedland. It is connected with Southeast Asia as well as neighbouring giants India and China.

Some of the earliest movers have had success: Carlsberg and Coca-Cola now bottle beverages in Myanmar. But even some of the world’s most sophisticated investors have yet to establish a foothold. Myanmar remains without a single McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks or 7-Eleven. One Tony Roma’s restaurant recently opened in Rangoon, its principal city – an odd outpost of Western branding in a country where outside influences have had trouble penetrating. Even the special economic zones Myanmar has set aside remain largely empty amid an internal debate over how much things should change.

“There’s a lot of nationalistic tendency – ‘Why do you bring in the foreigners? You are putting us out of business.’ Every day I have to struggle with this,” said Aung Tun Thet, economic adviser to Myanmar President Thein Sein.

Then add a crony economy not keen on giving up its profits. Ko Myo Min, the founder of Rangoon’s PS Business school and a well-known local business consultant, estimates that fully 80 per cent of Myanmar’s wealth is tied up in sprawling private conglomerates, or the military, and it’s sometimes tough to tell the difference between the two.

“The large business groups here have very well-developed roots. So you’re not coming in to a virgin landscape,” said Hal Bosher, chief executive officer of Yoma Bank , one of Myanmar’s largest commercial banks. And, he said, “all these business groups are very savvy, and they have cornered the market in some areas.”

Outmoded rules haven’t helped. Banks are barred from providing credit cards and the economy is so cash-heavy that Yoma runs a fleet of some 60 vehicles just to move around physical money. The rules also mandate bank hours of 9 to 3, which haven’t been updated even as the government has sought to open up the sector.

“So instead of changing the bank hours, you bring in nine foreign banks,” Mr. Bosher said. The dislocations are part of what happens in a country “trying to compress 150 years of development into five.”

In short, “Myanmar is a hard place,” says Wayne Farmer, president of the Canada-ASEAN Business Council. Canadian companies have struggled alongside the rest of the world, with only a few even showing interest. Several Bombardier jets now fly in Myanmar, although they were bought used. Some potash, pulp and paper has also been sold, but through third parties based in Singapore. Ottawa network equipment maker Optelian has also generated sales in Myanmar.

On a recent delegation to the country, Mr. Farmer was joined by representatives from Waterloo, Ont.-based software maker OpenText Corp. and Toronto’s Newcon Optik, which makes night vision and laser range finders for defence buyers. Myanmar is “new territory for a lot of us,” said CEO Peter Biro, who also works for the Jane Goodall Institute.

“What scares me from a corporate perspective is the political instability and legal uncertainties,” he said. “It just creates a very very difficult business environment.”

That said, the most severe problems facing Myanmar align with Canadian strengths. “There’s a lot of opportunity in infrastructure – roads, ports, power. This country faces an acute shortage of power. These are areas where Canada has a lot of depth and a very deep supply chain,” said Chia Wan Liew, Singapore chief representative for Export Development Canada.

And for all the problems Myanmar has, things are changing quickly. One of the chief problems facing the government is not an unwillingness to move forward, but lack of people to plough through an immense list of tasks. It was only in 2012 that Rangoon faced daily blackouts of four to five hours; today, those are a thing of the past. The Internet remains imperfect, but 3G networks now blanket major cities, and many rural areas.

“It’s evolving at an incredibly rapid pace,” Mr. Brown said. “This is a country that has been shut off for decades, and the speed and ambition at which they tackled or approached regulatory reform in the economic and business realm is really, really impressive.”

In Hkamti, the slow death of a river

Aung Kyaw Min

Myanmar Times

28 April 2015

Upper Myanmar’s Chindwin River, a tributary to the great Ayeyarwady, is choking to death – on gold. As it flows through Sagaing Region’s Hkamti township, rich in natural treasures, it is fouled with red sludge and spoil, the ruins of former and active mines and diggings.

The villages of Hman Bin, Phaung Sai, Kaung Hmu, Kyar Hmaw and Padumone villages are scenes of industrial desolation. Both banks of the 800-kilometre (507-mile) tributary have been despoiled by unregulated mining.

In 2012, the Swan Yi Htet Myet gem mining company started excavations in Hman Bin village tract, leaving piles of waste soil and pits around the monastery, nearby farmland and even on the local primary school football field, residents told The Myanmar Times during a recent visit to the isolated region.

“They took advantage of our inexperience. They contributed nothing to the village’s development in education or health. They handed out rice, oil and salt and bribed landowners to let them excavate. Some villagers objected, but they had no official documents and received no compensation,” said a local teacher, who asked to be identified only as Ma Nang.

The company was working a region known not for gems but for gold. Environmentalist Ko Aung San Myint alleges it misused its permits in order to dig for the precious mineral.

The company could not be reached for comment, but Myanmar Gems Enterprise assistant director for Hkamti U Ohn Thwin said it had not given any permits in the Hman Bin area. “We didn’t know about the excavations,” he said.

When a gem mining company applies for a permit to the regional Department of Mining, a specialist interdepartmental committee surveys the plots proposed for excavation, he said.

According to the 1994 Myanmar Gems Law, diggings must be located at least 100 feet (30.5 metres) away from rivers, houses, religious buildings and schools.

But illegal mines are also a problem. This is particularly the case further upriver from Hkamti in the Tietee region, where a local government administrator, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said companies are able to work without permits due to protection from local ethnic armed groups.

“It is difficult for us to arrest them because of this protection,” he said.

In much of Hkamti, Layshee and Lahe townships, Naga and Kachin armed groups hold sway.

Rigs built to sieve gold dust, surrounded by tips of red soil, now straggle along the banks of the Chindwin in upper Hkamti town, as well as huge digging machines and water pumps. Red sludge fouls the river.

“Gold mining here is a small-scale enterprise. The miners have no permit. Most of the workers are from Monywa, Mandalay and Magwe townships. When authorities come to inspect, we hide our machines, and take them out again when the inspectors leave,” said Sai Kyaw, a 40-year-old Khamti resident who runs a small gold mining operation in the area.

But alongside the small fry, large mining operators come up from lower Myanmar, working alongside Shan and Chinese businessmen, he said.

A member of the Chindwin Youth Network, Ko Aung San Myint, confirmed that a number of larger companies are illegally operating gold mines in Tietee. The community organisation has submitted complaints to the regional government and hluttaw, as well as the Ministry of Mines. If no action is taken it plans to petition President U Thein Sein and the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw in Nay Pyi Taw.

U Myat Maung, a representative for Hkamti in the Sagaing Region Hluttaw, said he raised the issue of illegal mining and environmental damage at the hluttaw in December. The regional mining ministry responded only that it would act “carefully” to ensure it does not happen again.

None of the companies could be reached for comment.

Waste water from mining works at Kyar Kite, Ma Lin, Min Sin, Kaung Hein and Nant Phi Lin villages in the lower Hkamti has decimated fisheries resources, residents say.

“The Chindwin is in danger of extinction if this goes on. The water is no longer fit to drink, or even to bathe in, these last eight years. Now residents have to dig wells,” said local author Chindwin Thar Mg Moe.

“Instead of the flying fish we used to see, there is just sludge, which could contain mercury. This has got worse under this government.”

He blamed corruption for the lack of response to the complaints filed by local residents.

U Htein Win, director of No 2 Ministry of Mining, conceded that while some mines were legal, others were operating without permission.

But he said enforcement of state regulations had improved since 2012.

“Since then, we began stopping gold mines from operating along the riverbank. Inspection teams were formed in the region and the townships to ensure companies follow the rules,” he said.

There was little evidence of inspection teams when The Myanmar Times visited, but the signs of riverside diggings were all-too-common. Large excavators could clearly be seen on the denuded banks, while barges carrying trucks and other equipment upriver were a common sight.

Aside from the pollution in the water, residents say the mining has contributed to increased siltation. This is particularly problematic in upper Sagaing Region, where the limited road and air access, and lack of rail lines means the river is a vital transport artery.

That status is now in doubt, however. Sagaing Region’s Department of Water Resources and Improvement of River Systems says 37 points on the river are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate when water levels are low.

The Ministry for Transport says it has spent K1.633 billion between 2000 and 2013 improving the Chindwin wa terway, but residents say this is just a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to repair the damage done by illegal mining.

Ko Kyaw Thet Win, of the Chindwin Youth Network, said the government must take action to stop illegal mining.

“They should address the reason for the narrowing of the river,” he said, “rather than just doing repairs.”

Villagers protesting gold mine ‘warned by army officer’ – Karen News

Mizzima News

Villagers from Ka Htaung Li village in Dawei Township who protested against a gold mining operation that polluted their water sources alleged that they were harassed, punished and warned not to do it again by a Myanmar Army officer, reports Karen News on April 28.

Villagers alleged the officer based at Htee Hta in Dawei Township gave permission to businessmen to run a gold mine operation that caused the pollution problems, according to the report.

One of the villagers who talked to Karen News said the villagers were summoned to the army base where they were threatened by the army officer.

According to the report, three local businessmen have operated the gold mining at Maw Ma Htoo stream since March this year. Villagers said that the mining had caused changes to the waterways and polluted the stream water that the villagers depend on for their water sources.

Australian mining firm looks to dig in Karenni’s tricky territory

Seamus Martov

The Irrawaddy

28 April 2015

Australian mining firm Eumeralla Resources and its local partner Myanmar Energy Resources Group (MERG) received approval last year from state authorities to explore a 400km square area in Karenni State. The application, made through Eumeralla’s local Burmese subsidiary Mawsaki Mining Co. which is 70 percent owned by the parent company, still has to be approved by relevant central government authorities but has already raised concerns from local groups worried about the impact that the firm’s activities could have on the environment and the local community.

Local activists are also worried that the deal—which, when approved, will give the Australian firm and its little known partner permission to explore a huge area of a state racked by armed clashes between the government and rebel groups since the late 1940’s—could re-ignite conflict in Burma’s smallest state.

While a ceasefire was reached between the government and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) in 2012, it remains unclear whether this represents a pause or a complete end to fighting in the state. Much of the fighting that took place in Karenni State over the last five decades revolved around the struggle between the government and the KNPP and other armed groups for control over the Mawchi mine, which during the colonial era was one of the largest tin and tungsten mines in the world.

While Eumeralla has stated that the exploration lease, once fully approved, “would be one of the largest foreign held concessions in Myanmar,” the firm declined to answer questions from The Irrawaddy regarding e xactly where in the state they have applied for exploration and if any of those areas included territory controlled or claimed by the KNPP or the several other non-state armed groups that continue to operate there.

Presumably, this is information that the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) listed firm’s shareholders would be interested in knowing as well, but none of those details could be found in any of the firm’s filings. “All the information you need or we can disclose is in the public domain via the ASX website or on the Eumeralla website,” said Eumeralla CEO Michael Hynes in an emailed response to the Irrawaddy.

The fact that Eumeralla will not reveal what specific area the application covers is troubling, according to Ko Reh, a spokesperson for the Karenni Civil Society Network (KCSN), a group active in monitoring development in Burma’s smallest state. Ko Reh maintains that the Australian government should discourage firms like Eumeralla from operating in conflicted areas of Burma until permanent peace has been established.

“The situation is not stable,” warns Ko Reh, whose organization is concerned about the increased p resence of army troops in contested parts of the state since the KNPP’s ceasefire was signed.Ko Reh also believes that the present Burmese government policy regarding natural resource extraction, and mining in particular, does not do enough to safeguard the rights of small-scale land holders whose farms would be impacted by both mineral exploration and mining. He’s not alone; a recent Investment Climate Assessment released by the World Bank earlier this year bluntly warns that with regards to mining, Burma does not have rules in place to protest the interests of local communities.

“When it comes to mining, Myanmar [Burma] currently lacks the necessary laws and enforcement mechanisms to protect its envir onment and vulnerable populations against the impacts of mining. Over the past two decades, this has led to conflict and severe environmental degradation in the wake of a rapid increase in large-scale mining,” the report concluded.

Calls that Australia discourage its firms from mining activities in ethnic areas will likely fall on deaf ears in Canberra, which over the last two years hasactively promoted Australian mining and oil firms to invest in the former pariah. Burma’s Minister of Mines reportedly visited Sydney in May 2013 as the head of a high-level delegation sponsored by the Australian government which is also supporting a rewrite of Burma’s mining laws which,, when finalized, are expected to m ake it much easier for foreign firm’s to operate in Burma.

Questions Remain About Firm’s Local Partners

Eumeralla’s website and various corporate fillings reveal little about the firm’s relatively unknown Burmese partner Myanmar Energy Resources Group (MERG) who, according to Eumeralla, owns the remaining 30 percent stake in Mawsaki. Eumeralla claimed in an Activities Report sent to shareholders in June 2013 that MERG is a “Myanmar conglomerate with operations across a diverse range of business sectors,” but didn’t disclose what any of those non-mining sectors were. Eumeralla identified MERG’s executive director as a Hpone Thaung, though little information could be found about him.

The MERG website, registered in Australia, does not include the name of Hpone Thaung or anyone else affiliated with the firm. Last year, text posted on the website claimed that MERG “became the first local business to bring world-class foreign mining companies to Kayah [Karenni] State.” The MERG site also claimed that the firm is “working closely with the Kayah State government” to develop a 3,500MW hydroelectric project in the state, likely a referenc e to the proposed Ywathit dam on the Salween River(also known as Thanlwin). The Ywathit dam is a deeply unpopular project that has environmentalists up in arms over its impact on local fish species and communities living in thevicinity of the site. Both of these claims, last viewed in March 2014, have since disappeared from the MERG website.

MERG’s registration with government authorities, a copy of which was obtained by The Irrawaddy, does not include anyone named Hpone Thaung, instead listing two individuals named Kyaw Tin Oo and Win Naing as directorsof the firm, which according to the document is headquartered in Rangoon’s Taung Kyar ward. Mawsaki, the firm held by Eumerralla and MERG, does not appe ar on the public list of firms registered with the Burmese government’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.

A four-page statement released by a Karenni activist group, the Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), in October 2013, claimed that Mawsaki was owned by the chairman of the Karenni Nationalities People Liberation Front (KNPLF), Tun Kyaw, and a foreign firm which went unnamed but was identified as Australian.

Mawsaki is also the name of a village in Karenni state that has long been under the control of the KNPLF, a group that broke away from the KNPP in 1978 before reaching a ceasefire with the central government in 1994.

According to a former resident familiar with the area, Mawsaki village is next to a small mine that is also held by the KNPLF, which officially transformed into a border guard force in November 2009. Both Mawsaki village and the mine near it are controlled by Border Guard Force (BGF) 1004, a unit comprising men loyal to Tun Kyaw, who was recently awarded the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by military authorities for his service in the BGF.

Apart from the mine at Mawsaki, which like the nearby and much bigger Mawchi mine also yields tin and tungsten, the KNPLF are also known to be involved in gold mining in territory the group controls on the Salween River. Eumeralla did not respond to questions about Tun Kyaw’s alleged involvement with Mawsaki.

According to Eumeralla Mawsaki’s application for exploration was approved in November 2014 by the Karenni chief minister’s cabinet. The MWMWN statement, which preceded Eumerra lla’s announcement of a deal in Karenni state by more than a year, noted that that there were reports at the time that “Kayin state government and Kayah state government have recommended an application by the Mawsaki mining company to survey for and mine tin and tungsten in an area of 100,000 acres (about 426 square kilometers) in the Mawsaki area.”

While Eumeralla pushes ahead with plans to explore Karenni State, another foreign firm appears to have opted to stay away because of security concerns. In January 2013, a delegation from Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Mining Limited (APML) made what the firm described on its website as “a four-day due diligence visit to an operating tin/tungsten mine with a vi ew of coming to an agreement with the underlying owner.” Though the firm, which was founded and led by an Australian businessman, didn’t mention the mine site by name, APML described it as “historically” being the “world’s biggest tin/tungsten producer,” which appears to be a reference to the Mawchi mine, the only one in the country that has ever been described as such.

According to APML, the firm opted not to pursue this project because the “security situation in the area dictated that this was not an opportunity we could contemplate at the current time.” APML is instead focused on exploring northern Shan State, hardly a model of tranquility. Just three days after the firm’s exploration permit was appr oved last October, fighting broke out in northern Shan State. In recent months fighting has continued between both the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the recently resurrected Kokang-based Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army across much of northern Shan State.

Blood teak: how Myanmar’s natural resources fuel ethnic conflicts

Jay Benson

The Diplomat

30 April 2015

As long as the incentives to control natural resources remain, there is little hope for long-term peace in Myanmar.

On March 30, the government of Myanmar and an umbrella group of 16 ethnic minority groups agreed to a draft agreement for a “nationwide ceasefire” to end decades of conflict in the country’s northern reaches. But even as the latest ceasefire was being made, two armed groups, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), were in open conflict with the Burmese military. Fighting in Kokang and Kachin has led to casualties in the triple digits and displaced an estimated 100,000 civilians.

Given the potential for the military to use renewed conflict as a pretext to roll back or end Myanmar’s nascent political reform process, it might seem puzzling for minority groups seeking greater autonomy and relief from human rights abuses to escalate violence at a time like this. But their logic is clearer when you understand what’s been so commonly overlooked in Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts: competition by both minority rebel groups and the Burmese military over the control of extractive resources and illicit industries.

Rubies, Jade, Timber, and Poppy

Academics have pointed to competition and control over extractive natural resources such as minerals, metals, and timber as factors which lead to both higher rates and increased duration of internal conflict. Valuable extractive resources provide incentives for the formation of non-state armed groups and extend the duration of existing conflicts by providing a relatively easy source of income that groups can use to purchase military equipment and recruit fighters.

Areas currently under the control of or within the traditional home areas of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar are rich in timber, rubies, and jade. These resources are both extremely lucrative and easy for an armed group to control and export.

The KIA and other armed groups bordering China have long benefited from the exploitation of northeastern Myanmar’s teak forests and other valuable hardwoods, which are harvested and smuggled into China. A recent report by the NGO Forest Trends found the overwhelming majority of Chinese timber imports from Myanmar are illegal. Likewise, rubies and other gems from ethnic minority areas have been smuggled across the border and into global markets.

What’s more, the military strategies of many armed groups appear to be heavily influenced by a desire to maintain and expand control over natural resources. After the resumption of major hostilities between the KIA and Burmese military in 2011, a KIA force spread thin by the offensives of better equipped government for ces surprisingly launched a significant offensive of their own. Their target? Hpakant, one of Myanmar’s most lucrative jade mining centers.

Myanmar’s booming drug production also serves as an easily exploitable source of revenue for non-state armed groups. Several of the most powerful armed groups run large-scale methamphetamine production operations and/or control the cultivation of poppy for the production of heroin. These are then smuggled into China and Thailand to supply growing demand in the region. The recent outbreak of conflict in Kokang may well be an attempt by the MNDAA to restore their control over the revenues of the drug trade.

An Alternate Path?

Given the seeming unending nature of these decades-long conflicts, options for resolution appear limited. A military resolution through the escalation of violence is both deplorable from a normative perspective and practically improbable. Is it possible, then, for nonviolent measures to alter the incentives of armed groups in ways that make control of extractive resources and illicit industries less important as a means of survival? There are several options.

First, the government of Myanmar and international actors could crack down on illicit exports. This approach may prove very difficult to implement, as smuggling across rugged borders is difficult to monitor and cooperation from local communities and governments on both si des of the border who gain financially from smuggling is unlikely to be forthcoming (high-ranking military and government officials are among those that profit most from smuggling outside ethnic minority controlled areas).

Alternatively, a long-term peace deal and political settlement which places the control of revenues from extractive resources in the hands of local governments run by ethnic minority officials may eliminate some of the most powerful motivations for the continuation of conflict. The prospects for such a long-term deal also appear dim. The military has demonstrated its willingness to undermine or ignore agreements when they conflict with their interests. Likewise, minority groups are unlikely to have enough trust in the state to agree to such a plan should it require them to lay down their arms.

Perhaps the most viable option in the medium to long term is development programs specifically targeted at diversification of local economies, reducing reliance on extractive resources and illicit industries for the survival of minority communities. As control of extractive resources diminishes in comparative economic importance, so would the incentives of communities to sustain armed conflict intended to maintain control of these industries.

This approach is not without its own challenges. It is difficult to know if the Burmese state and military would have the foresight to allow such development programs in rebel-held regions. In the government’s current form, it seems unlikely, but if liberalization continues, pe rhaps it will become more possible. Additionally, those at the very top of the leadership structures of armed groups benefit the most from the status quo. This approach would therefore depend on eroding support for the continuation of resource-driven conflict from below, gradually undermining the comparative economic advantage to both civilians and rank and file members of armed groups to continue fighting.

The re-ignition of conflict should be a reminder that as long as the incentives to control exploitable natural resources and illicit industries are greater than the incentives to create stability, there is little hope for long-term peace in Myanmar. Sustainable progress is possible, but only if the underlying economic structures of minority groups are altered by the diversification of local economies and the government continues op ening up. While this is by no means a panacea for the conflict, it may begin to alter the economic circumstances which have facilitated such persistent violence and bring about the conditions which lead to a more enduring peace.

British firm applies to search for minerals in Burmese jade areas

Kachin News Group

7 April 2015

The British mining firm Aurasian Minerals Plc (AuM) announced in an update to shareholders in January that this past December it had delivered "three applications for mineral exploration licenses to the Myanmar Mining Authorities." Though the firm did not say where in Burma these applications were made it did reveal that the applications were made in areas that according to the company there exists "jade and gem mining concessions".

The only known commercially viable jade deposits in Burma are located in Kachin state in Hpakant, an area that has seen repeated clashes between the governme nt and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) since a 17 year ceasefire collapsed in June 2011.

In January's Progress Update the firm noted that that its exploration applications for gold, copper and silver were “pending” with Burmese authorities "due to the current security situation in the relevant areas." According to Aurasian "when the areas have been given security clearance the authorities have indicated that they will then process the AuM applications after excising".

Although the firm, which was previously called Triple Plate Junction, did not specify what the "security situation" actually entails this appears to be a reference to the ongoing conflict between ethnic armed groups and the central government which continues in several parts of the country including in Kachin State. Likewise the firm's statement did not elaborate on what needs to happen in the areas in question before authorities can give "security clearance".

Though the firm is relatively small, 22.36% of Aurasian’s shares are owned by the giant US mining firm Newmont Mining Corporation, the world's second largest gold miner. According to Aurasian, the firm entered into an agreement last year with a subsidiary of Newmont that allows for Aurasian to gain access to "Newmont’s proprietary database covering various exploration activities in Myanmar, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia".

Newmont was previously involved in Burma in the 1990's before pulling out in 1997 after spending some $40 Million to develop gold deposits in Kyaukpahto in northern Sagaing division.

Burma – Human rights defender Naw Ohn Hla sentenced to four months in prison

7 April 2015

On 2 April 2015, Burmese human rights defender Ms Naw Ohn Hla was sentenced to four months in prison after being found guilty of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law during a protest on 29 September 2014.

Naw Ohn Hla has been a human rights defender and land rights activist for decades. She has been active in campaigning against the Letpadaung mining project in northern Burma, and is the co-founder of the Rangoon-based Democracy and Peace Women Network. She also campaigned for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest. The human rights defender has been imprisoned more than seven times since 1989 for her peaceful efforts to free political prisoners and assist Buddhist monks during the 2007 uprising. On 29 August 2013, she was sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour, on the charge of disturbing public tranquility. Her sentence was subsequently commuted following a presidential pardon.

The human rights defender was arrested, along with five other activists, on 30 December 2014, in relation to a demonstration held outside the Chinese embassy in Rangoon, urging an investigation into the shooting death of Letpadaung farmer Daw Khin Win by local police during a protest against the mining project. The five remaining human rights defenders, Ms Daw Sein Htwe, Ms Daw San San Win (also known as Lay Lay) and Messrs Ko Nay Myo Zin, Ko Tin Htut Paing and Ko Thant Zin await sentencing.

The Dagon Township court will also charge Naw Ohn Hla for violating Penal Code articles 505(b), which prohibits statements likely to harm public tranquility, and 353, which covers the use of assault or criminal force to hinder a public servant. Both charges carry a maximum prison term of two years. She will appear at Dagon Township court on 14 April 2015 to face these charges.

Jade sales dwindle amid conflict and Chinese anti-graft campaign

Kyaw Hsu Mon

The Irrawaddy

20 March 2015
Jade sales at the country’s biggest gems market in Mandalay have slowed to a near-halt in recent months, industry experts said, likely linked to both C hinese anti-corruption campaigns and stalled production in conflict-affected parts of northern Burma.
Burma’s high-quality jade accounts for billions of dollars in revenue annually, and according to the Ministry of Commerce is the country’s second largest source of revenue after gas and oil. A 2013 study by the US-based Ash Center at Harvard University put the value of Burmese jade sales as high as $8 billion in 2011 alone.
Most of the stones come from Hpakant, in northern Burma’s war-torn Kachin State, where more than 7,000 mines sites have been allotted through government concessions, many to companies with ties to the former military government.
All has not been well in the rich hills of Kachin State, where conflict has raged between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire in mid-2011. Clashes in Hpakant, in particular, have escalated over the past year, causing more than 2,000 local residents to flee as recently as January and bringing mining operations to a standstill.
Many industry experts attribute dwindling sales to the conflict, as less new stones are reaching the market and buyers try to capitalize on the slowdown by offering less for lots. Many sellers, in turn, are holding onto their assets in hopes that the former free-flowing trade will eventually get back on track, according to Aung Thein, a central executive committee member of Mandalay’s Myanmar Gems and Jewelry Entrepreneurs Association.
“Jade production is low at the moment, so what we can do right now is keep the better quality ja de lots and just sell small amounts to local traders,” he said. Lots that used to be valued at around 500 million kyats (US$482,000) are now bringing in only about 150 to 200 million kyats, he said, so many sellers are opting to “wait for the good times.”
Aung Thein said he has also observed a steep decline in the number of Chinese buyers visiting the gems market in Mandalay. He said that just a few months back, it was common for more than 10 traders to come to the market every week.
“But now, only four or five traders come here in a month,” he said, “it’s obvious.”
Beyond the slowing supply chain, Aung Thein said that the trade has also taken a hit from China’s ramped-up anti-corruption campaign. Tackling corruption in government has been a major priority in China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, and a task force led by Wang Quishan has begun major anti-graft operations targeting various levels of governance and Chinese expatriates.
The campaign has already had a chilling effect on low-level authorities, Aung Thein said, causing both businessmen and local officials in Yunnan to proceed with caution. Chinese jade traders have long been accused of paying enormous bribes to local officials in China to facilitate cross-border smuggling of goods, as raw jade is often transported in bulk across the border, where value-added processing occurs.
Economist and writer Aung Ko Ko predicted that while China’s anti-graft campaign has had an impact on Burma’s jade sales, it will likely not have a long and devastating effect because “the Chinese know about our domestics issues well, they know how to handle the local market.”
Aung Ko Ko added, however, that the changes in China’s management—as well as instability along the border—could start to impact other sectors in Burma, such as real estate and the rice trade.
Tremors of the cooling jade market have also been felt in Naypyidaw, the only place in the country where international jade sales are legal as per the 1996 Myanmar Gemstone Law. An official from the Myanma Gems Enterprise, run by the Ministry of Mines, told The Irrawaddy that high value sales have “almost stopped,” while some small-scale domestic deals are ongoing.
Min Thu, assistant director of the enterprise, which coordinates a major Jade and Gems Emporium, said he usually takes recommendations from traders around this time of year about when to hold the event. This year, he said, the date has not yet been set and the event could be delayed.
“Normally the emporium takes place in mid-June, but this year I’ve expect that it could be a little later,” he said.
Two international emporiums were held last year, the latter raking in a record $3.4 billion, up from about $2.6 billion the previous year. This year’s apparent decline in production and demand, however, has left industry players to wonder whether the trade has reached its peak.

Rockslide at Burma Jade Mine Kills 9, Around 20 Missing


1 April 2015

RANGOON — A rockslide at a jade mine in northern Burma killed at least nine miners, and rescuers were searching for around 20 others, state media reported on Wednesday, two days after the accident.

The miners were searching for pieces of jade in a 300-foot high heap of excavated rubble when it collapsed, the state-owned Myanma Alinn newspaper reported.

The disaster happened near the town of Hpakant, 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of Mandalay, in an area where scores of mining companies operate.

“The rescue work is continuing,” the newspaper said.

Accidents are frequent in Hpakant and victims are often “handpickers”—independent miners who find jade fragments by combing through unstable mountains of rubble dumped by mining companies. At least two people were killed in a similar incident in January.

Hpakant is the largest source of Burmese jade, which netted US$3.4 billion in sales at the annual gems emporium last October an official from the Mines Ministry cited by The Irrawaddy.

Estimated revenues from the illegal trade dwarf that figure.

The Harvard Ash Center published a report in July 2013 that put unofficial sales at about $8 billion in 2011, with almost all of that jade smuggled over the border into China.

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