MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Even more workers killed at Hpakant

Published by MAC on 2015-12-31
Source: Global Post, Eleven Media, Reuters, Irrawaddy (2015-12-30)

Yet another landlslide has taken the lives of "illegal" small-scale miners who "hand pick" jade at Burma's Hpakant mines in Kachin state.

It comes just a few weeks after a disaster which killed more than a hundred such workers. (See: Burma mining disaster claims over 100 workers' lives.)

Despite these huge tragedies, the number of people flocking to the area, and the amount of jade extracted, has now reached epic proportions.

The Burmese government has pledged to impose new rules, backed by police and armed forces, to crack down on the trade. But (as pointed out in the first article below) the military itself is primarily responsible for exploiting jade, wanting "to prevent outsiders from seeing places where abusive army-linked syndicates reap fortunes".

At least some members of the Burmese parliament acknowledge that many of the poor people who've become fatal "victims of jade" see no alternative to supporting themselves and their families, other than by rifling through the on-site mining wastes, thus putting themselves in harm's way.

However, any prospect that the Burmese government will recognise this, and frame provisions to ensure their safety or provide alternative work, is very remote. 

Some other countries - in Latin America and Africa - may have legalised, and avowed to protect their artisanal mining workforces. Until it forges truly democratic forms of governance, Burma surely won't.

Citizen protests

We may have the impression that Hpakant has now become a vast "inner-state" of chaos, control over which is being fought between the Burmese military, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), private Burmese companies and Chinese entrepreners, while bands of hundreds of small-scale miners  pick over bits of jade that the big boys leave behind.

In fact, the area is also populated by villagers, simply wishing to pursue traditional livelihoods.

Just before Christmas, some of these tried to prevent mining trucks from dumping jade mine waste near their homes; they were apprehended by members of the KIA - and later freed.

Meanwhile, on 22 December in Rangoon, a hundred or so Burmese citizens commemorated the first anniversy of the police killing of Khin Win, one of those who protested against expansion of the Letpadaung copper mine. See: Burma: Mine protests lead to another killing at Letpadaung 

It's another sober reminder that Burma has a long, long, way to go before being freed from the sorriest aspect of its "resources curse".

[Comment by Nostromo Research]

Why Myanmar’s massive jade industry is so deadly

Patrick Winn

Global Post

28 December 2015

BANGKOK, Thailand — They died in a deluge of worthless stones flecked, perhaps, with green pebbles worth tiny fortunes.

In Myanmar’s far north, more than 100 people were killed on Nov. 21 in a jade mine landslide. The next morning, bodies were still being pulled  from beneath the rocks.

On Dec. 26, another large landslide was feared to have killed dozens in Kachin state. 

The catastrophes have drawn attention to Myanmar’s brutal and corrupt jade industry.

Myanmar’s jade mines are among the bleakest places in all of Asia. In these zones, death is so common and lawlessness so obscene that the government forbids almost all outsiders from coming to take a look.

The landslide happened in a dusty and isolated outpost called Hpakant, in Kachin state. Its once-green hills have been ground down into yawning pits — big as football stadiums — that resemble craters on the moon. Each day, men descend in hopes of digging out a chunk of quality jade.

This jade extraction industry is dominated by Myanmar’s military figures and their associates, whose firms plunder jade with heavy machinery.

Their profits are staggering. The jade industry was worth up to $31 billion in 2014 alone, according to the investigative non-profit Global Witness — which calls Hpakant a “dystopian wasteland.”

Though jade is Myanmar’s natural bounty, its profits are hoarded by a few. Only a sliver of this wealth is steered toward repairing the nation’s crumbling roads, hospitals and schools. Even less is used to preserve the safety of miners who scramble into pits in flip-flops and ragged shirts.

While army-linked firms devour jade’s profits, their lucrative business also lures desperate men and women to the mines’ fringes. They are known as “yemase”: freelance scavengers picking through rubble unearthed by the big machines.

They appear to have comprised most of the landslide’s victims.

Their work is technically illegal. After all, army- backed firms own the rights to the land and the rubble they dig up. But in a nation where many survive on less than $2 per day, some believe that risking landslides (and a beating by security guards) is worth it — particularly if they hit the lottery and spy a valuable jade stone overlooked by the big mining companies.

“The stone that makes you a millionaire and the stone that makes you nothing can look the same from the outside,” one jade miner, Myo Aung, told GlobalPost in 2013.

“Think of it as a badly dressed girl. She’s unpolished and unwashed.” If a freelance miner can “fix her up” and sell the stone, he said, the payout can be life-altering.

This dream of finding a stone worth upwards of $30,000 brings droves to the mines’ outskirts. They often set up tents near their prime scavenging spots.

It was this sort of camp, spread out in the shadow of an abandoned 5,000-foot rubble pile, that got buried when the huge mound of rocks collapsed before dawn last Saturday. Many miners were killed as they slept.

The encampment was  “just a slum,” according to a local administrator contacted by Reuters. A state-backed newspaper claimed the miners had been previously warned to vacate the area.

Precise details are difficult to grasp since the military considers Hpakant to be a no-go zone forbidden to almost all foreigners. (A notable exception: dealers from China, the world’s biggest buyer of jade.)

But this disaster is still a reminder that Myanmar’s military — though bruised in recent elections swept by their chief rivals, the National League for Democracy — still dominates powerful industries that are marked by neglect for human life.

The army’s financial tentacles aren’t just wrapped around the jade business. A GlobalPost investigation, Asia’s Meth Wars, also revealed links between the military and militias that have become key players in Asia’s billion-dollar methamphetamine trade.

Their prime product — little pink meth pills — are churned in mountain hideaways patrolled by armed groups. In jade mining areas, meth and heroin are de facto legalized amid police neglect.

There’s a reason why roads leading to Myanmar’s jade lands, and its meth production hot spots, are lined with army checkpoints.

The military wants to prevent outsiders from seeing places where abusive army-linked syndicates reap fortunes — all while the world celebrates the Myanmar’s supposed shift from tyrannical misrule into a freer democratic state.


MPs take deputy mines minister to task for Hpakant comments

Eleven Media

29 December 2015

Deputy Minister for Mines Than Tun Aung said the Union government plans to impose martial law and a curfew under Section 144 of the constitution, impose military rule or shut down jade mines in Hpakant, Kachin State.

The minister spoke in a parliament session on December 28 while explaining the Hpakant situation.

He said several independent jade hunters were recently killed in landslides near their homes, which are situated among piles of waste rubble dumped by mechanical diggers. He said local armed groups commissioned illegal jade hunters to search for jade in the piles and to demand money from mining companies operating there, frequently destroying their vehicles and machinery if they do not receive payment. He said the rule of law is weak in the area.

MPs responded that the law should be observed not only by local residents but also by officials from the state government.

The deputy minister was criticiaed by the MPs for describing independent jade hunters as ‘greedy’ and ethnic armed groups as ‘radicals’ during the explanation.

MP Khain Maung Yee from Ahlone Constituency said local jade miners were described as ‘greedy’ three times during the explanation. He said the independent miners are not squatters and are trying to make their living by searching for discarded jade.

He added that the government should try to make the people’s lives better in Hpakant since it claims to be alleviating poverty around the country.

Parliament speaker Thura Shwe Mann suggested that the three strategies mentioned by the deputy minister be reviewed.


Lawmakers Debate Jade Trade in Wake of Latest Landslide in Hpakant

By Yen Snaing

The Irrawaddy

28 December 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s deputy minister of mines on Monday outlined the ministry’s plan to crack down on illegal prospecting and improve safety in the jade mining region of Kachin State’s Hpakant, in the wake of yet another landslide.

Deputy minister Than Tun Aung told lawmakers at a parliamentary session on Monday that the government may increase its police presence in the Hpakant region and would consider shutting down jade mines in the Hpakant Township village of Lone Khin.

Than Tun Aung also canvassed the possibility of declaring martial law in the area in a bid to enforce law and order, with reports of accelerated extraction efforts in recent months.

However, parliamentarians criticized the deputy minister’s plans and called on the ministry to provide assistance to the many migrants who derive a livelihood from picking through mountains of discarded waste at mine sites in search of precious jade residue.

In a Dec. 21 session of parliament, the official vowed the ministry would “take legal action against illegal miners and prospectors who are looking for residual jade in the pilings of mining waste.”

His statement was in response to a motion submitted by Kachin lawmaker Khet Tein Nan urging solutions to some of the issues that have plagued the jade trade in Hpakant Township.

Another landslide hit Hpakant on Friday afternoon, with Than Tun Aung stating that three people were missing, as was reported in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Monday. Earlier reports had suggested dozens of miners may have been buried.

Deadly landslides of mine waste pilings have been all too frequent in 2015, with the deadliest such collapse killing at least 114 people last month.

Khaing Maung Ye, an MP from Ahlone constituency in Rangoon Division, said the ministry should look for more viable options to address unchecked mining and prevent further landslides while also considering what could be done for small-scale prospectors, also known as hand-pickers.

“They have to make a living without the fear of death. They have no other job to do,” said Upper House National League for Democracy (NLD)  lawmaker Myat Nyana Soe.

Outspoken ruling party lawmaker Hla Swe, who chairs the parliamentary committee on mining, said companies were awarded vast areas to operate in, within a relatively short timeframe, resulting in them taking shortcuts in their operations.

He suggested giving companies more time to operate.

Independent MP Phone Myint Aung suggested a dramatic pull back in the industry so that jade could be reserved for future generations. Kachin  MP Khet Tein Nan agreed, saying systematic conservation efforts were needed in the area that has come to resemble an unlivable moonscape.

According to the deputy mines minister, 857 companies are currently operating in the Hpakant region, in an industry that was suspended in May 2012 due to conflict between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Than Tun Aung also explained that there were a total of 13 designated areas for companies to discard waste on existing piles.

“I am not being biased toward the companies,” Than Tun Aung said. “The jade mining had to suddenly stop in May 2012 because no security could be guaranteed to companies as there was fighting between the Burmese military and the KIA. The KIA destroyed [machinery] and set fires in the area and small scale prospectors also came into the area.”

The official went on to deny widespread reports that much of Burma’s jade was smuggled over the border to China, while simultaneously suggesting that, if that was the case, small-scale miners may be involved.


Official Vows Crackdown on Illegal Jade Mining in Hpakant

By Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

22 December 2015

MANDALAY — As talk heats up over jade mining in Kachin State’s troubled Hpakant region amid reports of frenzied extraction of the precious gems there in recent months, Burma’s deputy minister of mines vowed Monday to prosecute illegal jade miners large and small.

The ministry’s plan was discussed during a session of Parliament’s Upper House, where lawmakers called on the Union government to take action to restore rule of law in the region and prevent further landslides and environmental degradation.

“The ministry is going to take legal action against illegal miners and prospectors who are looking for residual jade in the pilings of mining waste,” said Than Tun Aung, deputy minister of mines, in response to a motion submitted by Kachin lawmaker Khet Tein Nan urging government solutions to some of the probl ems that have beset the jade trade in Hpakant Township.

The deputy minister said the ministry was mulling possible amendments to Burma’s Gems Mining Law to ensure better environmental protections and prevention of illegal mining, a tightening of permitting and enforcement on limits to the use of heavy machinery. The measures would be aimed at making gems mining a more sustainable sector, he added.

Regarding complaints that the fundamental ill afflicting Hpakant is an absence of the rule of law, Than Tun Aung said on this matter the ministry would cooperate with local authorities, the Kachin State government, the military and even ethnic armed groups operating in the region.

The Upper House on Monday approved Khet Tein Nan’s motion, and the chamber’s missive to the government was followed by a notice to President Thein Sein, sent from parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann on the same day.

In the notice, the speaker called on the Union government to submit an explanation, as soon as possible, for the frequent landslides in Hpakant and a reported increase in large-scale mining in the region that has brought an influx of potentially hazardous heavy machinery.

Deadly landslides of mine waste pilings have occurred frequently this year in Hpakant. The deadliest, last month, killed at least 114 people, so-called “hand pickers” who scavenge through the waste of excavation sites in hopes of finding gems missed by large companies. Dozens of others have died in smaller incidents.

The pilings of mining waste are also negatively affecting the region’s environment and crops, and the detritus blocks some waterways, causing severe floods in recent years.

Even amid growing calls for a review of business as usual in Hpakant, the director of the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, which is under the Ministry of Mines, said Saturday that now is the “right time” to be extracting jade from the region.

“Since the process of mining is to remove the soil waste and unearth the jade beneath, the jobs need to be done before the rainy season, and  now is the right time for the mining of jade,” said Aung Nyunt Thein, as quoted in the state-run Myanma Alin daily. Burma’s rainy season typically begins in April or June.

The director also explained that mining companies were being forced to dig deeper than ever before to strike jade, having depleted shallower deposits.

According to Aung Nyunt Thein, about 627 mining companies, all owned by Burmese nationals, were operating in the Hpakant and Lone Kin jade mining regions.

A Reuters report last week asserted that much of the large-scale mining taking place in Hpakant is being done by Chinese companies that have accelerated their extraction in recent months, fearing the incoming government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) wil l attempt to rein in the industry’s excesses. Additionally, research from the environmental watchdog Global Witness in October alleged that the Burma Army, at least one sitting cabinet minister, ethnic armed groups and several of Burma’s “cronies” all have ties to the jade trade.

Regardless of who is behind the mining, locals say the number of large machines and pace of jade extraction in the region is unprecedented.

“I’ve never seen such mining processes in my life. It is true that all mines could not work in the rainy season, but this year, they are mining as if they were starving monsters, devouring the earth in one gulp,” said La Htaung, a local miner in the Hpakant region.

“Prosecuting the illegal miners, especially the hand-pickers, is not the solution to solve the problems we are facing now. What we want is to review the mining compa nies, as soon as possible,” he added.


Mining ministry shrugs off safety concerns

Shwe Aung

Democratic Voice of Burma

18 December 2015

The Burmese government has vowed greater oversight of mining practices following a slew of on-site disasters in the country’s north.
 
Last month, at least 114 were killed when a pile of soft earth collapsed at the homes of small-scale jade miners at Hpakant in south-central Kachin State. Several other deadly incidents have been reported in the mining hub in the weeks since.
 
The director general of Burma’s Department of Mines, Win Htein, recognised that the ministry would need to enforce stricter regulation on unregistered miners, who converge on Hpakant from all corners of the country in the hope of striking it rich. Men, women and children sift through upturned rubble at the mine sites in the hope of finding a small jade stone passed over by industrial mining operations.
 
Hpakant is largely cut off from the rest of Burma by a long running war being fought in the surrounding jungles.
 
Win Htein conceded that there would need to be a “reorganis[ing] of government departments, civil organisations and local authorities” in order to crack down on illicit and dangerous practices in the black site.
 
However Win Htein insisted that the miners themselves must shoulder some of the blame for their own risky work practices.
 
“There were people there [in Hpakant] that were searching the jade mines illegally, and in some instances, running to the trucks before they had even unloaded the soil.
 
“When there is an explosion warning, people don’t stop. They keep searching for stones. So, both the companies and the people must take responsibility,” he said.
 
The Burmese government has also been forced to address accusations of the use of illegally imported and unchecked machinery in Hpakant.
 
Tin Ye Win, director general of the Ministry of Commerce, has now pledged to have all vehicles currently being used in the Hpakant jade mining area checked for appropriate documentation. So far, a response team from the commerce ministry has seized more than 700 vehicles, which are now due to be auctioned off. Further imports have been suspended for an unspecified amount of time.
 
Accusations of the use of illegally imported heavy mining machinery in the extraction industry, most recently by London-based watchdog Global Witness, could not be confirmed by the Department of Mines. However Win Htein stated that an investigation into the matter had been launched.
 
He added that the ministry plans to use a fund of some US $2 million to implement corporate social responsibility (CSR) structures to mining in Hpakant. The funds are allocated from the industry’s profits.
 
The introduction of CSR is a part of Burma’s application to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) – of which the country is now a candidate. Global Witness’ report, released in October, may damage Burma’s bid for full EITI membership. Damning allegations made by the NGO point to the involvement of military-linked cronies in a large scale plundering of Burma’s rich jade resource, with almost none of the proceeds making its way down to the pockets of ordinary citizens.
 
The NGO estimates the Burmese illicit jade trade to be worth some US $31 billion alone, almost three times the official figure of $12.3 billion.


Chinese jade miners in overdrive ahead of new Myanmar government

By Hnin Yadana Zaw

Reuters

16 December 2015

Using heavy earth-excavators and explosives, miners have been tearing into Burma’s northern hills in recent months, in a rush to excavate more jade from the world’s richest deposits of the gemstone before a new government takes office next year.
 
Acres of forest have been felled, leaving behind craters, barren cliffs and a web of dirt tracks in the once-picturesque Kachin hills as the Chinese firms that dominate the jade business step up mining and aggressively seek new concessions.
 
They are anticipating the multi-billion dollar industry could change once Aung San Suu Kyi’s election-winning National League for Democracy (NLD) party takes office with a promise of clean governance, those in the trade say.
 
The NLD has said it will bring in rules and competition and crack down on rampant smuggling that deprives the government of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, but sceptics doubt it will be able to do much in the remote, rebel-infested region.
 
Nay Win Tun, a flamboyant lawmaker and heavyweight in the jade trade with close links to the Burma military, says the Chinese have been flooding the trade with cash and equipment, ramping up production and taking over local miners.
 
“Right now, the market is being ruined by China,” he said in a rare interview at one of his mines near Hpakant, dressed in an orange shirt, sunglasses and a cowboy hat, and surrounded by a uniformed entourage.
 
“Chinese companies tried to do a joint venture with my company,” added Nay Win Tun. As he spoke, one of his attendants stooped down and tied his shoe-laces.
 
“I didn’t accept because they’re asking for a share of profit that’s too much.”
 
About 600 jade mining firms operate on 20,000 acres around the town of Hpakant, but activity is dominated by about 10 firms, among them mostly Chinese-led ventures, according to Ye Htut, the deputy head of Burma Gems Enterprise, a department of the Ministry of Mines.
 
“We are worried about the political changes in the coming months,” said Eik Yin, a site manager for Triple One Company, a China-Burma joint venture in Hpakant. But he declined to comment whether this was leading to ramped up production.
 
Because of the stepped-up extractions, thousands of ethnic villagers are being forced off their land. Scavengers, or “handpickers” who in their thousands scour mountains of loose earth and rubble for nuggets of jade, are sometimes buried alive, including 114 killed in a landslide last month.
 
Many of the scavengers are addicted to narcotics.
 
Earthmovers

Aung Ko Oo, director of the locally-owned Thukha Yadana mining company, said mainland Chinese firms had stepped up activity since the start of the year.
 
“Mostly they came in by joint venture with local (ethnic) Chinese companies,” he said. “Our firms have already sold two six-acres sites to the Chinese. We nee d money.”
 
Burma miners say they cannot stand up to Chinese tycoons who buy influence and invest in modern heavy machinery like Caterpillar and Komatsu earth-excavators. Processions of giant trucks, with eight-foot high wheels, are a common sight in the area and all belong to Chinese firms.
 
These firms have successfully cornered the market, selling directly to visiting Chinese buyers they are already familiar with, according to traders who spoke to Reuters.
 
A Burma Gems Enterprise official said Chinese firms had co-opted local army commanders to secure mining concessions on their behalf, knowing they were too powerful for the local government to refuse them.
 
“The military officers already have deals with the Chinese companies to transfer the sites to them,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 
“They don’t change the name of ownership sometimes. No one dares to touch (these) sites.”

Military officials were not immediately available for comment, and Zaw Htay, a senior official in the president’s office, declined comment.
 
Much of the jade is being smuggled into China each year, locals say. Jade is a status symbol in China widely believed to bring fortune, wealth and longevity.
 
According to official data, China – the world’s biggest jade market – imported only about $540 million of Burma jade in the first nine months of this year. Global Witness, a non-governmental organisation, estimated the value of Burma’s jade production at $31 billion in 2014.
 
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she was unaware of any allegations of Chinese companies’ involvement in jade smuggling, but added the country was opposed to such illegal activities.
 
A regional police official in Hpakant said hundreds of trucks were concealed in the Kachin jungles, a few of which operated each night to transport undeclar ed jade rocks from Hpakant towards the China border.
 
“At night, there are nine or 10 trucks moving,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Since it’s an army dominated area, the Chinese work together with the army to move trucks to Hpakant.”
 
In its election manifesto, the NLD led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi pledged closer scrutiny of investments when it replaces the current government early next year. But given the military’s political power and vast network of business and influence, it may be impossible to police the jade industry.
 
“Even this government can’t control this region because of the military’s domination,” said Eik Yin, the manager for Triple One.
 
“Until now, Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t been able to influence the military, so I don’t think an NLD government can either.”


Authorities to investigate ‘illegal import’ of Hpakant trucks, machinery

Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

18 December 2015
 
The government says it is investigating the possible illegal import of heavy machinery from China to work in the mines of Kachin State, following reports that jade production in Kachin State had ramped up in recent months due to uncertainty about the next government’s intentions toward the industry.
 
Over recent weeks, reports of a rise in the number of dump trucks seen in Hpakant have spread over social media, with locals urging the government to intervene.
 
On Friday, state-run newspapers reported that the import of trucks and heavy machinery through the Kan Pai Tee border checkpoint would be suspended over the course of the investigation, at the same time asserting that all vehicles hitherto imported through the border were brought in legally.
 
According to Tin Ye Win, the director-general of the Department of Transport, 880 dump trucks and earthmoving vehicles were legally imported through the checkpoint in recent months and permitted to drive through to the Kachin capital of Myitkyina.
 
In another turn, Friday’s report also claimed that the Ministry of Commerce had seized 700 illegally imported vehicles in Kachin State, but without mentioning the type of vehicles or whether they were imported to work in Hpakant’s jade mines.
 
Concerns over the the ramp-up of jade production have been raised in recent weeks, with villagers claiming the dumping of mine tailings is leaving a serious ecological impact in nearby villages and raising the risk of landslides and floods.
 
Last week, residents of five villages around Hpakant established a roadblock to stop dump trucks from taking mine waste away from the jade mine site. Some locals, c laimed to be the leaders of the blockade, were detained by a group of men claiming to be members of the Kachin Independence Army on Monday, and have not been heard from since.
 
In late November, a deadly landslide claimed the lives of at least 114 prospectors working to find jade residue in a mine site. The government has said it will shortly announce plans to address longstanding safety concerns in the Hpakant mines.


Jade Mine Protesters Freed After Alleged KIA Detention

By Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

23 December 2015
 
MANDALAY — Seven locals of Kachin State’s Hpakant, who were allegedly taken from their homes by members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) last week, were freed on Wednesday, one of the detained told The Irrawaddy.

Five men and two women who blocked trucks from dumping jade mine waste near their homes in Hpakant were allegedly apprehended by members of the Kachin armed group on Dec. 14. The detained group included members of a local social organization and hailed from Seng La, Mazut Pyan, Aung Larang and Seng Khar villages in the Hpakant region.

“We don’t know where the place [of detention] was, but they said it was the KIA’s battalion number six,” said Naw Lun, who was among the apprehended group. “They urged us not to [cause unrest] as the country is in a time of transition and to cooperate with them [the KIA] first.”

Hpakant locals had staged a roadblock from Dec. 10 to halt dozens of trucks planning to dump mine waste in nearby villages. The blockade was formed in response to what locals said was a spike in recent mining activity in the jade-rich region, which was hit by a deadly landslide in November that claimed the lives of over 100 prospectors.

Despite the release of all seven villagers, Naw Lun said locals still worried about their security.

“They didn’t threaten us but the way they took us to their place without explanation saddened us,” he said. “We feel that we have no one on our side to protect us, stand before us and speak for us..”

Unchecked mining in the region has prompted concerns among Hpakant residents over negative social and environmental impacts. According to figures from local jade merchants, more than 500 jade mining companies are now working in the area since mining resumed in late 2014.

“We are going to hold a meeting very soon and will invite opinions from locals and the authorities on how we can cooperate to take care of our region,” said Naw Lun.


Villagers retake land from gold mining company

By Aung Ko Oo

Mizzima.com

4 January 2016

About 300 local people and their supporters took back their land from Myanmar Sithu Gold Mining Company at Yayhtwet village, Chaunggyi village-tracts, Thapeikyin Township, Pyinoolwin district, Mandalay Region on 3 January.

They were supported by people from Patheingyi, Madaya and Singu townships.

They said that they had to retake their land after gold mining companies began mining there. Gold mining companies doing business around their village were Myanmar Sithu, Letpanpyant Regional Development Company and Wai Lin Htike Company.

A local villager May Lwin said, “No land is left for our people for our own business. All lands are for them. The land they are mining now is the land discovered by our ancestors. We have been doing business in these lands on a small scale. These lands were taken from us and these companies bully us. These lands are our village lands so we came and retook our lands today.”

Villagers have repeatedly lodged complaints against gold mining companies in the area to the Mining Ministry and Mandalay Region government since 2012, but the authorities did not reply or settle the dispute. In fact, local people were accused of trespassing on company land and stealing gold resulting in charges brought against them,the villagers said.

Abbot Nandaw Bartha from Yayhtwet village monastery said, “People have lost patience and now they have retaken their land by force. The government did not settle their dispute on lands which are village lands listed in the Home Ministry gazette. The regional government transferred these lands to mining companies knowingly and have intentionally created conflict with local people. As far as we know these mining companies are doing their mining business illegally here.”

Villager Zaw Naing said, “About 40-50 people are standing here with swords in their hands. In previous days, there were only about 20 people working here regularly. Today it is different. And I heard that the fences are now electrified. I see the situation at close range. As a local, I will fight back if they hit our people. I have no fear.”

Despite rumours being circulated about electrified fences, no one was injured and the company did not attempt to block villagers from entering their premises.

Myanmar Sithu Gold Mining Company Manager Myo Htut said, “We cannot do business here without permission given by the State. The authorities concerned will come and settle this dispute. We do not have anything to say.”

Toe Gyi who led the villagers said, “We have retaken our land by placing flags on the boundaries of it. Starting from tomorrow, we will begin our gold mining work together while we are awaiting settlement of the dispute by the government.”

Thapeikkyin Township Administrator Ko Ko Hlaing said, “We have to take action against those who violate the law. We have not yet received any complaints from anyone.”

Thapeikkyin police station did not reply when contacted.


 

Kachin rebels detain protestors

Eleven Myanmar

21 December 2015
 
Four leaders of a protest to prevent backhoes from entering Hpakant region on December 16 were detained by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
 
The protest was led by the Kachin National Development Network and at least four leaders were detained, according to residents.
 
“I saw my neighbour arrested with force and taken away in a car. She wasn’t home until December 18. I heard the armed men were from the KIA but I saw no weapons. Before the protest, the KIA said not to escalate the protest. They detained people from Sain gtaung, Hwaykha, Lonekhin and Tharyarkone with most from Lonekhin,” said a witness.
 
Hpakant residents said they had not heard about the incident but would demand the truth.
 
“The demonstrations took place at Lonekhin, Saiywathit and Kadayhmaw jade mines. The protest was led by Kachin nationals,” said a Hpakant police spokesperson.
 
After the November 8 election, heavy machinery and backhoes have been passing through villages and towns in Hpakant region 24 hours a day in an attempt to extract as much jade as possible before the Union Solidarity and Development Party leaves power. 
 
Seven villagers have reportedly been killed this year.
 
“It is really dangerous for residents with big vehicles passing all day and night,” said Lamaung Lataung, leader of the protest from the Kachin development network.


Memorial Held for Slain Letpadaung Protester in Sagaing

The Irrawaddy

23 December 2015

RANGOON — The first anniversary of the death of Khin Win, a woman shot down by police while protesting a land seizure near the Letpadaung  copper mine, was commemorated by the victim’s family on Wednesday.

On Dec 22 last year, Khin Win joined around 60 other residents of Sagaing Division’s Moe Gyo Pyin village who were attempting to obstruct contractors fencing off farmlands on behalf of Chinese company Wanbao.

Police opened fire after villagers threw stones and fired slingshots at the authorities. Khin Win, 56, was struck in the head and died at the scene. Locals said that at least 10 other villagers were injured during the fateful confrontation.

Win Khaing, the deceased’s daughter, told the Irrawaddy that over 100 people attended Wednesday’s memorial at Moe Gyo Pyin. She added that the criminal investigation into the circumstances around Khin Win’s death had stalled since her family filed the case at the Salingyi Township police station.

“They confirmed my mother was shot dead by a bullet. But there is still no justice for her as we haven’t got any response from the court,” she said. “We will keep pushing for justice when the new government comes to power.”

The Salingyi police station unavailable for comment on Wednesday morning.

The Letpadaung copper mine is a joint venture between China’s Wanbao mining company—itse lf a subsidiary of weapons manufacturer Norinco—and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, a conglomerate owned by the Burmese.

Khin Win’s death triggered riotous protests outside the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon last December. Several participants were subsequently jailed on unlawful assembly and incitement charges.

The Letpadaung project, based primarily in the Sagaing township of Monywa, has been no stranger to controversy. In November 2012, during an early morning raid, police fired on protesters using white phosphorous rounds, the use of which against civilians is prohibited under international law. Most of the more than 100 people injured in the assault were Buddhist monks protesting the encroachment of the project on a nearby monastery.

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