MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: no sign of end to resource curses

Published by MAC on 2016-05-09
Source: Statement, RFA, Irrawaddy, Manymar Times, others (2016-05-04)

The newly-elected government in Burma is failing to meet civil society expectations that it will quickly end many mining-related abuses across the country.

There's no sign of the power and influence of the former military regime being dislodged; on the contrary, the widely-condemned Letpadaung copper mine was re-opened earlier this month.

And in April, an Amnesty Prisoner of conscience, Myat Nu Khaing, was jailed for a year because she peacefully demonstrated against the killing of Letpadaung activist, Khin Win, in December 2014.

A farmers' network in Shan state is clamouring against the decade-long poisoning of their land by gold mine wastes. So far to no avail, and even as the devastating operations seem set to expand.

The armed group, Manpang Peoples Militia, has been accused of coercing other Shan state villagers into agreeing to a new coal mine in Tanyang district.

Yet more workers - at least 13 of them - are reported buried under another land slide in the Hpakant jade mining are of Kachin state (See the earlier report: Burma: yet more workers killed at Hpakant)

More than 60 civil society groups, political parties and religious organisations, have asked the new National League for Democracy government to ensure power sharing and accountability in implementing mega-projects in Kachin.

In response, a spokesperson for the Amyotha (parliamentary) natural resources committee has promised to "try to limit excavation of minerals ... during the five-year term of this parliament.”

But, as The Myanmar Times comments: "How exactly the illicit and highly lucrative exploitation of resources will be stopped he didn’t say".

                                                                                       COPPER


Myanmar Villagers Protest Resumption of Copper Mine Production

Radio Free Asia

4 May 2016

About 200 villagers on Wednesday protested against a Chinese company that will resume production at the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, a villager said.

The large project operated by China’s Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. Company and Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL), a Myanmar army-owned conglomerate, has come under fire by local farmers who have long protested the company’s land takeovers in the area.

The villagers marched to Wanbao’s offices after officials said they would resume production on Thursday following the suspension of activities for a few months, said Mar Cho, a protester from Tone village.

“We are protesting today because the company will resume the project on May 5 without approval from local residents,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi had led a parliamentary inquiry commission on the Letpadaung project, later calling for more transparency in its land appropriation process and for police riot-control training in the wake of a violent raid on protesters at the mine site in 2012.

She accused the government of former President Thein Sein of ignoring the commission’s recommendations to improve conditions at the mine, saying these had sparked clashes in December 2014 between police and farmers trying to prevent Wanbao employees from fencing off land for the project.

The incident left one farmer dead and dozens injured.

“We demand they stop the project because the company didn’t adhere to the recommendations in the report on the Letpadaung copper mine problem by the investigative commission,” Mar Cho said.

The villagers are also demanding that Wanbao properly compensate them for crops they lost to land confiscations in 2014 and 2015, she said.

Local police stopped the protesters from entering Wanbao’s office campus, she said.

“We will come here and protest again and again until we get a response,” Mar Cho said.

In April, two members of parliament from Sagaing region met with residents from seven local villages who lost farmland to the mine project and pledged to take up their cause.

The mine is one of several Chinese-operated megaprojects under way in the Southeast Asian nation that have met with opposition from locals because of expropriated land and environmental damage.

Reported by Nayrein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


After Myanmar protests, China says companies should respect laws

Reuters

9 May 2016

China has consistently demanded its companies operating abroad respect local laws, China's Foreign Ministry said on Monday after hundreds of villagers in Myanmar protested against the resumption of operations at a Chinese-backed copper mine.

The protests have gathered momentum since last Wednesday when some people broke through police barriers protecting the mine, operated by Myanmar Wanbao, a unit of a Chinese weapons maker, in one of the first tests for the new government's ability to deal with public anger.

Myanmar Wanbao runs the Letpadaung mine in a joint venture with a conglomerate controlled by the Myanmar military, Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. Villagers say their land has been unlawfully confiscated to expand the mine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the protests, said China and Myanmar are traditional friends whose cooperation accords with the interests of both countries.

"The Chinese government has consistently demanded that Chinese companies investing abroad respect the laws and rules of the host nation, and fulfil their responsibility and obligation to society, including paying attention to protecting the environment," Lu told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

"China is willing to work hard with Myanmar to properly implement these mutually beneficial cooperation projects, to promote local socio-economic development, to better benefit both countries and their peoples," he added.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Myanmar last month, where he said China was confident it could resolve business disagreements with Myanmar through friendly talks, amid pressure from China to resume a stalled $3.6-billion dam project.

Lu said China was confident it could continue to have win-win cooperation with the country formerly called Burma.

After big protests in 2012 and 2013 against the mine, when riot police raided a protest camp injuring more than 100 people, then opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi led an inquiry that recommended compensating the residents and minimizing environmental damage.

Suu Kyi led her party to a sweeping election victory last year and now oversees the government.

Work at the mine, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the city of Mandalay, was suspended after the 2012/13 protests. The company has recently tried to show it can reduce the impact of mining and improve livelihoods.

China has made a big push to assert its business and political interests since Suu Kyi's party took over in April.

In 2012, police threw white phosphorus grenades at protesters, inflicting serious burns on scores. In 2014, a protester was shot dead.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)


 

Myanmar: Investigate Use of Excessive Force Against Letpadan Protesters

Hold perpetrators accountable, amend peaceful assembly law

http://www.fortifyrights.org/publications.html

14 April 2016

Yangon —While welcoming the Government of Myanmar’s recent release of political prisoners, Fortify Rights and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic urged authorities today to open a formal investigation into the violent police crackdown against protesters in March 2015 in Letpadan.

The Letpadan protesters were among nearly 200 political prisoners that the recently elected Government of Myanmar—led by the National League for Democracy (NLD)—either pardoned or dropped charges against on April 8. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi announced on her second day in office a plan to free political prisoners, activists, and students in the weeks surrounding the Buddhist New Year holiday. According to human rights groups, more than 100 political prisoners remain behind bars.

“After spending more than a year in prison for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, the Letpadan protesters are finally free,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. “Their courage and tenacity is an example to human rights defenders across the world. We commend the government for prioritizing their release and urge the authorities to take swift action to hold perpetrators accountable.”

In October 2015, Fortify Rights and the Clinic at Harvard Law School published an 81-page report documenting how Myanmar police officers punched, kicked, and beat unarmed protesters with batons on their heads, backs, and legs at Letpadan on March 10, 2015. Hundreds of photographs and dozens of videos from journalists and other witnesses show police officers beating unarmed protesters. Still, more than a year later, the authorities have failed to hold anyone responsible for the use of excessive force.

In January 2016, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), the Letpadan Justice Committee, and Justice Trust released a briefing paper detailing how Myanmar authorities repeatedly delayed the trials of students arrested at Letpadan and denied them access to adequate medical treatment while in prison.

In addition to investigating the abuses, Fortify Rights and the Clinic at Harvard Law School called for the government to hold police officers responsible for using excessive force against protesters. The government should investigate commanders and officials who gave orders to use excessive force or failed to take reasonable measures to prevent such conduct.

“Releasing these protesters and dropping the charges against them is a positive and historic step,” said Tyler Giannini, Director of the Clinic at Harvard Law School. “We look forward to the government upholding its promise to follow the rule of law by investigating and holding perpetrators to account.”

The October 2015 report makes clear that not all police officers at the scene in March 2015 participated in violence. Some police officers used riot shields or their own bodies to protect protesters from attack by other police officers, providing further evidence of the unjustified use of force by some officers. Fortify Rights and the Clinic urged the authorities to highlight commendable police action in any investigation.

The protests in Letpadan stemmed from the September 2014 passage of the National Education Law, which critics said failed to protect the right to form unions and failed to accommodate ethnic communities, among other alleged shortcomings. Protesters in Myanmar took to the streets in January 2015 and continued to march in various locations throughout the country over the next several months.

Many of the Letpadan protesters faced charges under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, which requires prior authorization or consent for assemblies and provides penalties of fines and imprisonment for failure to comply, infringing on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Fortify Rights and the Clinic at Harvard Law School encourage the NLD Government to repeal or amend the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law to bring it in line with international standards and to prevent it from being used to target human rights defenders.

For more information, please contact:

Matthew Smith, Executive Director, Fortify Rights +1.202.503.8032,
matthew.smith[at]fortifyrights.org; Twitter: @matthewfsmith @FortifyRights, www.fortifyrights.org

Tyler Giannini, Director, Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic: +1.617.496.7368,
giannini[at]law.harvard.edu; Twitter: @HmnRghtsProgram


MYANMAR: PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE SENTENCED TO ONE YEAR

Amnesty International Urgent Action 0 UA 237/15, UPDATE 1, AI Index: ASA 16/3768/2016

5 April 2016

[The original index number is ASA 16/2705/2015 of 20 October 2015]

A peaceful protester and former election candidate in Myanmar, Myat Nu Khaing, has been sentenced to one year in prison for participating in a peaceful demonstration against the shooting to death of a protester. She is a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Myat Nu Khaing was sentenced to one year in prison on 31 March by the Dagon Township Court in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Myat Nu Khaing is a medical doctor, and at the time of her arrest was running as an independent candidate for Phyu Township, Bago Region in the November 2015 general elections. She was found guilty of “rioting” (Article 147 of the Penal Code) for her participation in a peaceful demonstration on 29 December 2014. The demonstration was calling on the authorities to investigate the shooting to death of protester Khin Win by the police at the controversial Letpadaung copper mine.

Amnesty International believes that the case against Myat Nu Khaing is politically motivated. She was charged with multiple criminal offices, including “rioting”, despite the fact that credible sources confirm that the protest was peaceful. Moreover, she was arrested on 17 October 2015, just weeks before the 8 November general elections but 10 months after the protest for which she was charged. She remains in Yangon’s Insein prison, where she has been detained since her arrest.

She was acquitted of other Penal Code charges for inciting the public to commit offences “against the State or the public tranquility” (Article 505(b)) and “assaulting or preventing a public servant from the discharge of his duty” (Article 353); and for participating in an unauthorized assembly under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. Penal Code charges for performing “obscene acts and songs” in public (Article 294) and “assaulting or obstructing public servant when suppressing riot” (Article 152) were earlier dropped by the court.

Please press the authorities
* to immediately and unconditionally release Myat Nu Khaing and all other prisoners of conscience in Myanmar;
* to ensure that pending her release, Myat Nu Khaing is not tortured or ill-treated in other ways, not transferred to a remote prison, has regular access to family members and a lawyer of her choosing and is provided with any medical treatment that she may require;
* to conduct a thorough, impartial and effective investigation into the killing of Khin Win and other allegations that police used excessive force against protesters at the Letpadaung mine, and bring those responsible for human rights-related offences to justice in trials which meet international standards of fairness, without recourse to the death penalty.

Address your appeals to

President:
Htin Kyaw
President’s Office
Office No.18, Nay Pyi Taw
Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Fax: 011 95 1 652 624
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Home Affairs:
Lt Gen. Kyaw Swe
Ministry of Home Affairs
Office No. 10, Nay Pyi Taw
Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Fax: 011 95 67 412 439
Salutation: Your Excellency

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@rogers.com

Chairman, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission:
Win Mra
27 Pyay Road, Hline Township
Yangon, Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Fax: 011 95 1 659 668
Email: chmyanmarnhrc@gmail.com 

Additional information

Khin Win was shot dead on 22 December 2014 when police opened fire on protesters demonstrating against land being taken over for the Letpadaung copper mine project in Sagaing Region, central Myanmar. Local communities and activists have been opposing the development of this copper mine because of concerns about environmental damage, risk of forced evictions and negative impacts on the communities' rights including the rights to housing, food, and work. 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.

On 15 May 2015, human rights activists Naw Ohn Hla, San San Win (aka Lay Lay), Sein Htwe, Nay Myo Zin, Tin Htut Paing and Than Swe, were each sentenced to four years and four months’ imprisonment by the Dagon Township Court in Yangon for participating in the same protest on 29 December 2014. (See Urgent Action: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa16/1682/2015/en/). They have also received additional prison sentences in other townships which they walked through during the protest. All are currently imprisoned in Insein prison.

On 24 March 2016 Amnesty International published a new report on political imprisonment in Myanmar which highlighted the worrying erosion of newly found freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the country since the start of 2014. The report found that authorities charge activists with multiple offences for the same actions or protests to lengthen their prison sentences, charge people with non-bailable offences to keep them in detention during their trial, and charge human rights defenders and other political activists many months, in some cases years, after the alleged offence took place. These tactics serve to create a climate of fear among human rights defenders and other activists in the country.

The report New expression meets old repression is available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa16/3430/2016/en/


Activist-turned-candidate in 2015 poll gets 1-year prison term

Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

31 March 2016

A court in Rangoon’s Dagon Township on Thursday sentenced Myat Nu Khaing, an independent candidate in November’s general election, to one year in prison with hard labor.

Myat Nu Khaing was contesting a Lower House seat in Pegu Division’s Phyu Township when she was arrested on Oct. 16. She was presented to a court in Dagon Township and charged for her participation in a peaceful protest on Dec. 29, 2014.

“The court ruled that she is guilty for following unlawful protesters, according to Article 147 of Burma’s Penal Code, and sentenced her to one year’s imprisonment with hard labor. Because she’s already been detained in Insein Prison for about five months, she will need to stay behind bars for another seven months,” said Than Zaw Aung, Myat Nu Khaing’s lawyer.

Than Zaw Aung said the court dismissed charges for protesting without permission under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law and articles 353 and 505(b) of the Penal Code.

The protest at issue involved some 100 people marching to the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon to honor Khin Win, a woman who had been shot dead during a protest against the controversial, Chinese-backed copper mining in Letpadaung, Sagaing Division. Several other activists were also arrested after a clash with police, with some sentenced to four years in prison.


Military-linked UMEHL transitions into public company

Kyaw Hsu Mon

The Irrawaddy

31 March 2016

The Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) announced on Thursday that, after being linked to the military for more than two decades, the conglomerate has transitioned into a public company.

According to state-run media, shares for UMEHL, which was founded in 1990 with two shareholder groups, will be consolidated into one group. This move by the board of directors and shareholders will effectively transform UMEHL from a special company, under the 1950 Special Companies Act, into a public one, under the 1914 Myanmar Companies Act.

An anonymous UMEHL official confirmed the conglomerate’s organizational restructuring but could not provide any additional details.

UMEHL has many businesses to its name, including Bandula Transportation, Myanmar Brewery Limited, Myawaddy Bank, Myawaddy Trading and, more controversially, jade mines in Kachin State.

Soe Tun, chairman of the Myanmar Automobile Dealers Association and vice president of the Myanmar Rice Federation, said he welcomed UMEHL’s  transformation because it meant that it would have to follow the same rules as most other companies.

“It [UMEHL] will be more transparent and there will be equal chances for other businesses,” Soe Tun said.

Under military rule, UMEHL was free to monopolize businesses in various sectors.

“For example, it monopolized the beer and cigarette markets. … We couldn’t compete with them on a level playing field,” said a local, Rangoon-based businessman.

Zaw Lin Htut, chief executive officer of the Myanmar Payment Union, said that while UMEHL’s profits would not go toward the government’s budget, the organization will have to pay taxes according to the Public Companies Act.

“As a public company, there will be more transparency and accountability, and more responsibility, too. They’ll have to pay taxes,” Zaw Lin Htut said.

“But if the Defense Ministry is a shareholder, they [the ministry] will receive a dividend, and according to tax law, no taxes would need to be paid on this dividend,” he added.

In the past, UMEHL and its many different businesses have been accused of tax avoidance. Since Burma’s shift to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, however, they have frequently topped the annual list of corporate tax payers.


Wanbao prepares to re-start Letpadaung

Chan Mya Htwe

Myanmar Times

23 February 2016

Preparations are going forward on the ground for the resumption of operations at the controversial copper mine at Letpadaung, the site of repeated clashes  between local residents and activists and government troops and police.

U Myint Thein, manager of the Yangon office of Myanmar Wanbao Company, told The Myanmar Times that work was already under way on the site, in Salingyi township, Monywa district, Sagaing Region, with a completion date for construction of May 4.

The company is building a processing factory and warehouses to store copper, explosives and other mining-related equipme nt, he said. “Once construction is complete, we will resume copper production.”

According to the agreement signed by the Ministry of Mines, Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (UMEHL) and Myanmar Wanbao in 2013, the government will get 51 percent of profit, and Wanbao will get 30pc, with UMEHL receiving 19pc.

The announcement, first reported by AFP, is expected to send shockwaves through the local community, which blames the mining operations for land-grabs and environmental degradation. In November 2012, monks demonstrating against the project were attacked with white phosphorous, and in December 2014 Daw Khin Win, of Moe Kyo Pyin middle village, was shot dead, apparently by police.

A 2013 investigation led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi recommended that construction should continue.

The company has adopted an environmental conservation plan drawn up by an A ustralian company, in accordance with international standards, said U Myint Thein. “Mining entails environmental impact, but we will reduce the harm as much as possible. We will sink many small mines rather than one single large shaft. We will use technology to reduce vibration,” he said, adding that measures would be taken to avoid the spillage of acid used in mining.

Wanbao will also compensate farmers whose land has been taken, with money and job opportunities. Those who refuse to accept work will receive a monthly grant of US$70, $120 or $160 a month over a 30-year period. The company says 80pc of those affected have already accepted the offer.

However, Ma Lei, who lives in the nearby village of Tone, said more than 100 farmers have refused compensation and a meeting with Wanbao to discuss compensation for this year’s harvest has not yet taken place.

“We’re not satisfied. They’ve done nothing in terms of village development, or job opportunities,” she said.

The resumption of the project is shaping up to be a potential headache for the incoming National League for Democracy government, as anti-Chinese sentiment arising from the controversy has spread far beyond Letpadaung.

Dong Yun Fei, Myanmar spokesperson for Wanbao told AFP, “We will start production under the new government and I hope for a better future with them”, adding that there are “still some problems with local people”.

“Some of them protest sometimes. The question of how to handle this problem is the business of the government. Only they can solve it,” he said.


Parliament cancels discussions on Letpadaungtaung copper mine project, military land seizures

Eleven Myanmar

9 March 2016

Win Myint, the speaker of Lower House, announced to MPs at a regular parliament session that the discussions on the Letpadaungtaung copper mine project and the government’s seizure of 60,000 acres of farmland for Defence Industry No 20, which were brought up following the submission of an urgent proposal by MP Khin San Hlaing, have been cancelled.

MP Khin San Hlaing (NLD) of Pale Constituency submitted an urgent proposal on February 25

urging the Union government to examine the hasty sales, leases, transfers and privatisations of state-owned lands, factories and businesses with little oversight. The proposal also calls for the investigation of the removal of temporary dwellings and their residents. The MP said these moves should only have been made with the consent of the new government.

Lower House MP Kyaw Aung Lw in of Sidoktaya Constituency seconded the motion before raising the topics of the Letpadaungtaung copper mine project and Defence Industry No 20, which are not mentioned in the urgent proposal. Military-appointed MPs objected to his comments and submitted an objection letter to cancel the discussion.

“Sub-paragraph C of Lower House Bylaw 158 says that topics must directly concern only the proposal under discussion. But the comments of Kyaw Aung Lwin went against the stipulation of the bylaw. For that reason, instructions were given to the Office [of the Lower House] to remove these topics from the discussion on the urgent proposal,” Win Myint said.

The letter submitted by the military representatives pointed out that although the speaker of the Lower House warned Kyaw Aung Lwin two times at the time of the discussion, “the latter did not listen and insisted on raising the subject of these two off-topic issues. The comments of Kyaw Aung Lwin can caus e the people to misunderstand the agreement made between the Tatmadaw and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. Disagreements can arise among the MPs as soon as the second parliamentary term starts”.


Two foreign companies apply to explore for minerals in Chin State – Chan Mya Htwe

Myanmar Times

7 March 2016

Two foreign mining companies have applied to look for minerals in Chin State, prompting the local government to send a team to assess the proposed area and determine its suitability, according to the state’s forestry and mining minister.

First Light Mandalay Mining & Metals Company from Australia and India’s Balasore Alloys are hoping to sign a contract with the Department of Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration under the Ministry of Mines.

After receiving their application last month, representatives from the police force, forestry and agriculture departments, general administration office, land records department and planning department are all checking whether the proposed area is suitable, said State Minister for Forestry and Mining U Kyaw Nyein.

The team is assessing the security in the area and the status of the land including whether it is vacant or protected, and whether the government has plans to develop it, he added.

First Light Mandalay wants to mine for copper in Kanpetlet township, Mindat district, while Balasore Alloys has applied to explore chromite in Tonzang township, Falam district.

If the team approves the investments, the companies will then need to apply for permission to the Union government, said U Kyaw Nyein.

“The team’s findings will be discussed in the Chin State Hluttaw, which will give a recommendation to the Union government. Ultimately, permission is in the hands of the Union government alone.”

He said he could not put a figure on the volume of mineral deposits in the area or how much the companies could produce.

Three companies from Singapore, India and China have already started exploration activities in Chin State with a view to forming joint ventures with the mining ministry. Singapore-based Namaha is exploring for copper in Kanpetlet and has found mineral deposits.

Indian company Karam Chang Thapar (KCT) is looking for chromite in Falam and Tonzang while Chinese company North Mining Investment is exploring for nickel in the Mwe Taung Phar Taung area of Tiddim township.

In 2013, Chin political parties and residents called for transparency over the Chinese-backed project, with some warning that it could lead to a repeat of the unrest seen at the Letpadaung copper mine.


Parliament awaits government support on urgent proposals

Tin Htet Paing

The Irrawaddy

1 March 2016

Since opening in early February, the Upper and Lower Houses of Burma’s new Parliament—dominated by lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD)—have initiated multiple democratic proceedings to which ruling government officials have yet to offer support.

Lawmakers of different party backgrounds have submitted five urgent proposals in recent weeks that have been backed by a majority of parliamentarians, but to which central government officials have not responded.

Union Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than forwarded the first such urgent motion to lawmakers on February 8, requesting that all MPs make a monetary donation from their daily stipends to victims affected by fires in Shan State’s Namhsan Township and Labutta Township in Irrawaddy Division.

Parliamentarian Sai Tun Aung, representing the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and hailing from Kyaukme Township in Shan State, submitted a proposal to the Lower House on February 16 calling for an end to fighting between the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and later, the Burma Army. He asked that the Parliament discuss an immediate ceasefire and the pro vision of assistance to people displaced by the conflict.

Maung Thin of Mandalay Division’s Meiktila constituency, is an MP representing the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)—a group aligned with the military which formerly made up the parliamentary majority. He submitted an urgent request to the Parliament on February 22 asking government to take preventative measures to address social and economic problems which could potentially be caused by El Niño. He said he feared that, due to unusual weather patterns, Burma’s public could face more natural disasters in the coming months, including forest fires, drought and flooding, resulting in agricultural and health problems.

On February 24, a proposal by Lagan Zal Jone, who represents Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township, called on the government to provide protection assistance to the anti-opium vigilante group known as Pat Jasan— established by ethnic Kachin Baptist elders. At the time, Pat Jas an members were on their way to destroy poppy fields in northeastern Kachin State but were stopped outside of the capital, Myitkyina.

Another proposal was tabled by Khin San Hlaing of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on February 25, urging authorities to review permission to sell or lease state-owned factories, facilities and projects to private companies before the transfer of power to a new government next month.

Government officials failed to appear at the Parliament last week to discuss the latter two issues—those of privatization and of protection for anti-poppy campaigners. Instead, a letter was sent to the legislature from the central government stating that officials were busy with transition process.

One notable action by military lawmakers last Friday was their united opposition to a support statement read by another NLD MP in response to Khin San Hlaing’s proposal. The soldiers all stood up collectively in the Parliament to express their disapproval of the statement, which addressed issues relating to the controversial Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division. A military MP, named Moe Kyaw Oo, refuted the statement by detailing various facts and figures related to the mining project. Such active participation by military MPs is incredibly rare in Parliament.

The new Parliament has also formed several committees that will guide the legislature’s work over the next five years, including 18 in the Lower House and 16 in the Upper House, and a Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission lead by the USDP’s Shwe Mann, Burma’s former Union Parliament Speaker often viewed as an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the past month, the lawmaking body has appointed chairpersons and committee members. Unlike in the previous Parliament, where military MPs were assigned as committee observers, in the current arrangement, a military lawmaker has been appointed as a fun ctional member to each of the committees formed.

The Union Parliament has thus far formed three standing—or more permanent—committees: a joint public accounts committee; a joint draft bill committee and the Committee on Scrutinizing Hluttaw (Parliament) Representatives.


GOLD

 

Shan civil society groups call for gold mining suspension – Chan Mya Htwe

Myanmar Times

7 March 2016

The Shan State Farmers’ Network (SSFN) will ask the incoming National League for Democracy government to suspend companies’ gold mining operations in eastern Shan State, which the organisation says have polluted local villagers’ water resources.

A decade of mining in the Loi Kham hills has left around 300 acres of fields unusable, according to a joint press release from the SSFN and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) published on March 3.

The two groups said they “urge the incoming NLD government to implement federal reform to end Nay Pyi Taw’s unilateral power to grant mining concessions in ethnic areas”.

Farmer Ma Nan Lar from Na Hai Long village in Tachileik township has lost 17 acres of land to gold mining. The silt from companies’ mining operations covers the creeks that local farms use for agriculture, the farmer said. Spoiled water sources have made farming impossible, and around two-thirds of farmers have left to find work in Tachileik town or across the border in Thailand, Ma Nan Lar said.

Local farmers who have lost land are requesting that the gold mining be suspended, creeks repaired and farmland returned to its original state, said the SSFN and local farmers. The farmers will also seek compensation from the respective companies whose operations have damaged land.

Companies operating in the area have made periodic compensation payments. On February 28, trucks belonging to three companies – Sai Saik Pyo Ye, Shwe Taung and Loi Kham Long – transported some 30 villagers to Tachileik town, according to the joint press release. There the villagers received compensation for 7 acres of land at rate of 12,000 baht (K407,928) per acre , according to Ma Nan Hla, an SSFN member. The joint release said the companies promised up to 3 million baht (K101 million) for the entire village.

There was no agreement between the companies and the other villagers or ward administrators, the press release said. Nan Hai Long locals said the companies had not told ward administrators about the compensation.

In July 2014, Shan State Minister for Mining and Forestry Sai Aik Pao ord ered gold-mining companies in that area to halt operations and compensate local farmers, as toxic waste from the mines was destroying farmlands and harming villagers’ health.

But after paying compensation to the farmers, the firms resumed operations in early 2015, according to Ma Nan Lar.

Figures from local farmers and government officials for that round of compensation differ. Sai Aik Pao said the mining companies’ agreement with the farmers was for K6.6 million per acre and total compensation paid was K144 million.

A local farmer, however, gave higher estimates for the 2014 compensation. The companies paid no compensation in 2015, the farmer added.

Since the firms’ restarted operations in 2015 gold mining in Loi Kham has expanded, and another company – Shan Shweli – has recently started excavating, according to the joint press release.

The release also reported that the army guards the mines, which Ma Nan Lar confirmed.

Lone Sam, a 54-year old Nan Hai Long local, was shot in October 2015 after climbing a hill to view the mining operations, the release said. Three soldiers admitted shooting Lone Sam at Tachileik town court on January 14, but said that the villagers attacked first, the SSFN’s Ma Nan Hla said.

There has been no date set for a further hearing, according to the press release.


Gold mining companies try to buy silence of villagers: CBOs

Mizzima

4 March 2016

The Shan State Farmers’ Network (SSFN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) issued a statement yesterday saying that they deplored renewed attempts by gold mining companies to buy the silence of villagers impacted by toxic mining waste in eastern Shan State, instead of responding to their demands to stop mining and restore their lands.

According to the statement, villagers in Na Hai Long, Tachileik Township, have been suffering from the impacts of gold mining in the nearby Loi Kham hills for almost a decade. Their main water source has become clogged and polluted with cyanide-filled waste, and about 300 acres of fields have become unusable. In July 2014, in response to villagers’ appeals, the Shan State Mining and Forestry Minister, Sai Ai Pao, ordered the mining to stop, but the order was overturned by Naypyidaw, and the mining has continued until today.

On February 28, 2016, four trucks belonging to three mining companies, Sai Saik Pyo Ye, Shwe Taung and Loi Kham Long, arrived at Na Hai Long village and took about 30 villagers to the town of Tachileik to receive compensation for damage to their fields caused by toxic mining waste. The companies provided cash for 7 acres of land at a rate of 12,000 baht per acre. They promised up to 3 million baht for the entire village.

There had been no prior agreement with the village headman and other Na Hai Long residents about accepting this compensation, which is seen as a clear attempt to silence local opposition to the mining operations.

“The companies are pouring, even more, waste into our fields than before. How can we accept money from them to destroy our lives?” said a farmer from Na Hai Long.

The mining in Loi Kham has expanded since 2015, and another company, Shan Shweli, has recently begun excavations. The mines are guarded by Myanmar government troops, who on October 13 last year, shot dead a 54-year-old farmer from Na Hai Long called Loong Sarm, who had trekked up to the hills with fellow villagers to monitor the expanded mining operations.

Loong Sarm’s family is trying to sue the military for the ki lling of Loong Sarm. On January 14, 2016, the first court hearing was held in Tachileik. Three Myanmar soldiers admitted to shooting at Loong Sarm, but claimed that they were under attack from the villagers. In fact, Loong Sarm and other villagers were unarmed and were walking back down the hills when they were shot at. There has been no date set for a further hearing.

SSFN and SHRF urged the incoming NLD-led government to implement federal reforms to end Naypyidaw’s unilateral power to grant mining concessions in ethnic areas.


Gold mining companies try to buy silence of villagers impacted by toxic waste in eastern Shan State

Press release by the Shan State Farmers' Network and Shan Human Rights Foundation

3 March 2016

The Shan State Farmers' Network (SSFN) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) deplore renewed attempts by gold mining companies to buy the silence of villagers impacted by toxic mining waste in eastern Shan State, instead of responding to their demands to stop mining and restore their lands.

Villagers in Na Hai Long, Tachileik township, have been suffering from the impacts of gold mining in the nearby Loi Kham hills for almost a decade. Their main water source has become clogged and polluted with cyanide-filled waste, and about 300 acres of fields have become unusable. In July 2014, in response to villagers’ appeals, the Shan State Mining and Forestry Minister, Sai Ai Pao, ordered the mining to stop, but the order was overturned by Naypyidaw, and the mining has continued until today.

On February 28, 2016, four trucks belonging to three mining companies, Sai Saik Pyo Ye, Shwe Taung and Loi Kham Long, arrived at Na Hai Long village, and took about 30 villagers to the town of Tachileik to receive compensation for damage to their fields caused by toxic mining waste. The companies provided cash for 7 acres of land at a rate of 12,000 baht per acre. They promised up to 3 million baht for the entire village.

There had been no prior agreement with the village headman and other Na Hai Long residents about accepting this compensation, which is seen as a clear attempt to silence local opposition to the mining operations.

"The companies are pouring even more waste into our fields than before. How can we accept money from them to destroy our lives?" said a farmer from Na Hai Long.

The mining in Loi Kham has expanded since 2015, and another company, Shan Shweli, has recently begun excavations. The mines are guarded by Burmese government troops, who on October 13 last year shot dead a 54-year-old farmer from Na Hai Long called Loong Sarm, who had trekked up to the hills with fellow villagers to monitor the expanded mining operations.

Loong Sarm's family is trying to sue the military for the killing of Loong Sarm. On January 14, 2016, the first court hearing was held in Tachileik. Three Burmese soldiers admitted to shooting at Loong Sarm, but claimed that they were under attack from the villagers. In fact, Loong Sarm and other villagers were unarmed, and were walking back down the hills when they were shot at. There has been no date set for a further hearing.

SSFN and SHRF urge the incoming NLD-led government to implement federal reform to end Naypyidaw's unilateral power to grant mining concessions in ethnic area

Contact

Nang La + 95 (0)9-492-571-94/ +95 (0)926-421-3703 (Burmese, Shan)
Sai Kheun Mai +66 (0) 94-638-6759 (English, Burmese)
Sai Hor Hseng +66 (0) 62- 941-9600 (English, Shan)


Gold smugglers using land route from Myanmar – Srinath Vudali

The Times of India

7 March 2016

Smuggling gold from Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore by flight-hopping couriers now appears to have become passe, with customs officials discovering that the yellow metal is entering India by land from Myanmar.

Customs officials have uncovered that smuggled gold reaching the southern parts of the country actually comes from Myanmar and the first point of entry is Kolkata. From here, the illegally-obtained gold is transported in trains to various parts of the country, including Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, sources in the customs department told TOI.

Last month, officials from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) nabbed three persons on board the Coromandal Express smuggling 58 gold biscuits weighing about 9.65 kgs in Visakhapatnam. On questioning, the culprits disclosed that the smuggled gold was bound for Chennai.

"Smuggling from Myanmar has been happening at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal (sic) and from there it is picked up by a few persons and they in turn distribute the yellow metal to various persons across the country,'' a customs official said. In the case last month, each of the accused was given three to four kgs of gold to take by train.

Till now, most gold seizures were either at the RGIA airport or sea ports in Andhra Pradesh, but now smugglers are opting for the land route from countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. Smugglers from Chennai, whose tentacles are spread across the south Indian states, are behind the new smuggling route, sources added. "If the gold is smuggled through the land route, smuggle rs can gain up to a 15 per cent margin with less risk,'' an official said. "It is difficult for any enforcement agency to nab the smuggler once he lays his hand on the gold in West Bengal. If the smugglers escape from there, the chances of catching them are bleak," he added.


COAL

 

Militia pressures villagers to agree to coal excavations

BNI

7 April 2016

Manpang People’s Militia coerced leaders and residents of several villages to attend a meeting about coal excavations in Lashio district in northern Shan State. The militia led by Lit. Mon summoned the residents of Kwan Koot, Ho Nar, and Loi Nguen villages to Kwan Koot Monastery to discuss the militia’s involvement in excavating coal in Tanyang District.

Residents already rejected previous attempts when a company tried to start evacuations in the past. Over 400 farmers signed a petition in 2014 stating they didn’t want evacuations from the site located near a tributary of Namhaung Creek in Namhu Lwelkar village tract, around three miles away from Tanyang town.

“The villages objected saying that rivers and creeks and farmlands would be destroyed. So the company backed off,” said anonymous resident that attended the meeting.

The militia sent their men hoping to restart the project, the resident explained. They wanted signatures to start in 45 days, but no one signed.

A young man that didn’t want his name used said: “Manpang People’s Militia sent a letter to come and meet them. It was not an official letter. It was written on a normal paper. The villagers were afraid because there was the word ‘kan sit’ which means military. They have the guns.”

A representative of the Manpang People’s Militia told those in attendance their group “contributes to the region” so rather than bring in an outside company they should be the ones to do the coal excavation.

The militia has been long accused of being heavily involved in the opium trade and profiled in several Shan Drug Watch reports.

According the UK-based non-profit Global Witness report: “Guns: Cronies and Crops” they were a beneficiary of extensive land confiscations by the Myanmar Army. By 2013, over five million acres of land were leased out for commercial agriculture; over a quarter was used for rubber plantations said the report. Some of this land was given to Manpang People’s Militia.

Unconfirmed news reports suggest that the Manpang People’s Militia may be working for outside companies that are using them to pressure villagers into allowing coal excavations to take place.

The militia has been long accused of being heavily involved in the opium trade and profiled in several Shan Drug Watch reports.

Unconfirmed news reports suggest that the Manpang People’s Militia may be working for outside companies that are using them to pressure villagers into allowing coal excavations to take place.


New report on coal in Burma

Project Maje

6 April 2016

Project Maje, an independent information project on Burma’s human rights and environmental issues, has released a new resource report, "Coal Burns Burma: A Compendium on Dirty Energy Power Plants and Mining."

Highly polluting lignite coal is mined in Burma (Myanmar.) Two coal-fired power plants have been established in Burma, and many more are in the works, even as much of the rest of the world (including neighboring China) seeks to close down coal powered facilities and switch to better energy sources.

A turn to coal fired power plants will drastically change the country’s climate impact for the worse. This is particularly unfortunate when Burma has been identified as one of the nations most affected by Climate Change. Severe effects on the health and environment of communities near the Tigyit mine and power plant in Shan State and the Ban Chaung mine in southern Burma have been documented. There is very strong local opposition to the coal power plant projects proposed in several regions.

The report includes background information and locations for Burma’s coal mines and coal fired power plants (operating and proposed) and links to a large array of recent news articles about them, as well as a list of NGOs opposing coal in Burma.


Over 4,000 sign petition against cement factory’s coal use

Independent Mon News Agency

4 March 2016

Over 4,000 residents have signed a petition against the use of coal to power a cement factory owned by Mawlamyine Cement Limited (MCL) in the Pyar Taung area of Kyaikmaraw Township, Mon State.

Public talks to discuss the cement factory’s use of coal as a power source were held on 29 February and 1 March in the villages of Neeton, Kawpanaw and Kawdon, which are nearby to the cement factory.

Mi Sandar Non, an activist opposed to the use of coal-fired power spoke to the Mon News Agency.

She said: “The local residents don’t accept the use of coal-fired power, we will object so that they [the cement factory] won’t be able to use it. The local residents were not informed about the use of coal-fired power, they [MCL] planned this systematically and have deceived the residents. The monks haven’t accepted it either, the monks led [the public talks] by inviting experts and having them explain [the consequences of using coal-fired power] to the public.”

She also added: “In recent days about 500,000 tons of coal, which is to be used this year, has been transported in small boats [to the cement factory] from Kyaikkami at the mouth of the [Thanlyin] River.”

Prominent local Mon monks led the collection of signatures for the petition protesting against the cement factory’s use of coal. Later, they will submit the petition and views of local residents to the government.

Residents from villages in the Pyar Taung area, including Neeton, Kawdon, Kawpanaw, Pauktaw, Kwanngan, and Ahlite, have already signed the petition. The monks will also invite Karen and Burmese villagers from the area to join them in their protests.

At a public talk in Kawpanaw Village, Vedana Thumana, the abbot of a monastery in Kawdon Village said: “We are one step behind because we have only just found out that the company was secretly working on coal-fired power. Even though we are late, the monks and the local residents have a duty to protect against this threat.”

MCL began constructing the cement factory in 2014 and it is set to begin cement production in July of this year, but local residents only found out that it would be coal powered in 2015.

Dr Khin Maung Nyo, U Sein Myint, a retired deputy director of the Ministry of Mines, and Dr Dewi Thant Sin from the Myanmar Green Network were also invited to explain the dangers posed by coal fired power to the public.

U Sein Myint said: “Other countries have been reducing their use of coal-fired power due to its negative effects, we shouldn’t try to use coal-fired power in our country. There are 13 types of waste produced from coal. Generations will suffer from these waste [products].”

He said that the 13 waste products produced by burning coal are: carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, carbon monoxide, dust particles, hydrocarbon, mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, fly ash, bottom ash, and uranium.

He explained that the longer the factory operates the further the negative effects will spread.

He said: “When the factory starts operating, its surroundings will suffer the first negative effects [and] after a few years the negative effects will become more widespread.”

Local residents have called on MCL to use other fuels such as natural gas rather than coal to power the cement factory.

Nai Shwe a resident of Maekaro Village said: “Even though we have voiced our disagreement the company [MCL] has been doing what it wants. We are prepared to discuss what will be the best [solution]. It’s not that we don’t want the company, we just don’t want them to use coal power.”

He also added: “We are still collecting signatures [for the petition]. Then, we will submit them to respective government departments. We will never allow the use of coal-fired power. If we cannot negotiat e, we will have to protest on the street,”

The MCL cement factory will consume 49 megawatts per day, 40 megawatts of which will be produced by burning coal and the remaining 9 megawatts will come from a generator burning bio-waste.

MCL is a subsidiary of the Thai company Siam Cement Group (SCG).

Previously the Mon News Agency reported that MCL in collaboration with Resource and Environment Myanmar, an environmental advisory group, had held public meetings in villages local to the cement factory to discuss environmental monitoring of the factory’s construction.


                                                                                          JADE

Landslide at jade mine in Myanmar leaves at least 13 dead

Cecilia Jamasmie

Mining.com

2 May 2016

At least 13 people have been confirmed dead and dozens are missing after a landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar’s Hpakant, in the country's Kachin
state, the heart of the country’s lucrative greenstone industry.

Deadly accidents are, unfortunately, not unusual in Hpakant, where as much as 90% of the world's jade is mined, AP reports.

Miners work under extremely dangerous conditions, particularly those who pick through churned up material from large-scale machinery on unstable
hillsides.

Jade mining, which has been in the hands of Myanmar's military and elites during the final years of junta rule, is not only a dangerous
sector to work in.

A report last year by rights group Global Witness showed the business remains a key driver of conflict between the government and ethnic
Kachin rebels, funding both sides in a war that has killed thousands and displaced around 100,000 since 2011.

Most of the jade extracted in Myanmar, which remains under US sanctions, is smuggled into China, where the so-called "stone of heaven" is
considered a symbol of virtue and power, and it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.

About 100 people were killed in a similar landslide in November last year, the worst such accident in recent memory.


Kachin groups appeal to next government on resources

By Lun Min Mang

http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/19373-kachin-groups-appeal-to-next-government-on-resources.html

9 March 2016

Mismanagement of resources is deepening conflicts in northern Myanmar. That is the conclusion of an appeal by more than 60 civil society groups, political parties and religious organisations to the incoming National League for Democracy government to ensure power sharing and accountability in implementing mega-projects in Kachin State.

U Tsa Ji, general secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group and a spokesperson for the organisations taking part in a conference held in Myitkyina, said the ongoing conflicts in Kachin State were a consequence of mismanagement of natural resources, particularly jade.

“As some jade companies have close ties with senior government officials, those businesses are guarded by armed forces. This has made the situation more prone to fighting with local armed ethnic groups,” he said.

The jade industry is reported to be worth billions of dollars a year, but most of the trade takes place illegally.

U Tsa Ji said the appeal was intended in part as a riposte to a report by the Harvard Kennedy School of the US following consultations in Kachin State which the groups saw as revealing “huge ignorance” of the state’s local, cultural and historical context.

“We are calling for the halt of those businesses and projects as they lack transparency and accountability. More importantly, they lack social responsibility,” he said.

“The [US] report suggested that mega-dam projects should be continued,” he said.

The joint statement, whose signatories included a number of Christian groups, urged the next government “to disclose all information transparently and educate the people on grievance mechanisms in natural resource extraction, taxation, licensing processes, revenue sharing in respect of the ‘right to know’ of the people”.

However, U Tsa Ji said the statement did not mean that those businesses and projects are to be halted permanently, but that they could be continued once peace and political negotiations in Kachin State with respective stakeholders had been completed.

The statement called on the incoming government to let the state parliament freely choose its chief minister in order to endorse federalism and provide governance over Kachin State’s resources.

U Tsa Ji said the statement was also aimed at the outgoing government, the military and ethnic armed groups in calling on them to tackle conflicts and resource mismanagement.

“The people of Kachin State are the ultimate owners of all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water, and in the atmosphere in Kachin State,” the statement by 61 groups said.

It said the “ultimate management authority of natural resource extraction, taxation and management, [and] revenue sharing” should belong to the Kachin State government.

It also called for guarantees of “free, prior, informed … consent” of the local community before issuing operating permission for any projects.

 



Amyotha committee takes aim at resource extraction

Pyae Thet Phyo

Myanmar Times

22 February 2016

With the country’s deadly jade industry increasingly under international scrutiny after hundreds of scavengers were buried in landslides, the Amyotha Hluttaw is taking the infamously unregulated extractive industries sector to task.

The illegal plundering of natural resources will be put to an end, according to National League for Democracy MP from Kayin U Saw Moe Myint, who is also a member of the Amyotha’s natural resources and environmental conservation committee.

“The committee is to try to prohibit illegal excavation of minerals in Myanmar during the five-year term of this parliament,” he told The Myanmar Times after parliament on February 19.

How exactly the illicit and highly lucrative exploitation of resources will be stopped he didn’t say.

“It is the responsibility not only of the government but also of the companies investing in mining which need to collaborate with experts so that proper supervision and accountability are brought to the sector,” U Saw Moe Myint said.

He added that the current mines extracting precious gems, oil, minerals, offshore natural gas and other resources do not comply with international standards. Experts and concerned departments are unable to supervise these sizeable industries throughout the country, which has led to environmental degradation and poor safety practices.

According to the Natural Resource Governance Institute, Myanmar ranked last out of 58 countries surveyed on legislative protections, reporting practices, safeguards and quality control, and corruption. In all four benchmarks, Myanmar was perceived as failing.

The NLD has promised to oversee “fair distribution” across a federal Union of profits reaped through natural resource extraction. Billions of dollars are at stake, most of which is currently lining the pockets of state- and military-owned enterprises. The jade industry alone has been valued around US$31 billion per year, or about half the nation’s GDP.

According to the NRGI, more transparency and greater autonomy over natural resource revenue streams could be integral to peace building in resource-rich, con flict-ridden states like Kachin, Shan and Rakhine. In a recent report, the institute urged establishing a public consensus on resource revenue sharing.

“I believe that these situations will be rectified through proper channels,” said MP U Saw Moe Myint. “As for our committee, we will try to retain our environment resources such as water, land and forest that are being destroyed by mining unsystematically,” he said.

The candidates for the 15-member Amyotha Hluttaw natural resources and environmental conservation committee were submitted for consideration on February 19.

The committee will be headed by U Kyaw Thiha, NLD MP for contituency 12 in Mandalay Region, while U Sa Khin Zaw Lin, NLD MP for Ayeyarwady Region will serve as a secretary. The members are U Saw Moe Myint, NLD, Kayin; U Khan Maung Myint, NLD, Kachin; U Ye Htut, NLD, Sagaing; U Khin Maung Win, NLD, Sagaing; U Nyi Sein, Ta’arng (Palaung) National Party; Daw Thiri Yadanar, NLD, Mon; U Sai Thar Sein, USDP, Kayah; Daw Shan Mu, NLD, Kayah; U Han Win Thein, Thanintharyi, NLD; U Myint Naing, Arakan National Party, Rakhine; U Tun Tun Oo, NLD, Mandalay; U Maung Maung Ohn, NL D, Ayeyarwady; and military MP Lieutenant Colonel Tun Myint.

Committee chair U Kyaw Thiha said that the group will aim to ensure wealth from mineral resources is put to use for the country, and to control excavation of minerals so as not to destroy the environment by excessive or irresponsible extraction.

“Mineral resources are very important for the country. Excavating excessively could lead to major environmental impacts on the c ountry. So the committee is formed as a check and balance on the mining sector,” he said.


Myanmar’s jade bounty is disappearing ‘in front of our eyes’: Hpakant MP

Chan Mya Htwe

Myanmar Times

10 March 2016

U Tint Soe, the new lower house MP for Hpakant township, discusses his frustration with Chinese lawbreakers, large-scale excavation, narcotics, landslides, environmental damage and the finite nature of jade resources.

How can the new government tackle problems in the Hpakant jade mining area?

We will watch the companies and try to control them according to the laws. One important thing to note is that the jade market is terrible. A stone that used to be worth K10 million is now worth less than K1 million. Demand and supply are out of line – demand is falling but jade is being extracted from the ground with huge machines.

It should not be like this. It no longer seems like companies are mining for jade, but mining for pebbles. Jade production in our country is a huge business. On the other hand, when crooks control the market in China, prices fall. Jade is not something we can re-plant, it takes millions of years to form. If we continue to extract as much as we can we will end up with nothing.

We already have policies in place to protect the area, so we can try to control the companies using the existing laws.

A special team including the vice minister for home affairs went to Hpakant to examine rumours that a large number of dump trucks were being brought across the border illegally. What were the results of the investigation?

I was also involved in the search to find the machinery and examine the companies, as were other National League for Democracy members. I caught companies red-handed, disposing of the vehicles behind piles of tailings that they had dumped illegally. The companies said they planned to get licences, and gave excuses. Their words lacked conviction but we have been unable to do anything about it.

There have been many events like this. Many companies are hiding vehicles, and we have lots of evidence. But collecting evidence is different to taking action. Our goal is to ensure proper revenues for the state. For the moment we just want to find out as much information as possible.

Though I wish it did, the mining law does not include specific details about the power of machines or how many vehicles and dump trucks should be used at each work site. But with so many huge machines at the mines our supply of jade will run out quickly, that much is obvious. Each generation has a duty to preserve the things left by its ancestors. Jade mining operations are having a huge environmental impact.

Do you have plans to limit the machinery used in Hpakant’s jade mines?

We have to. I have been in Hpakant for 28 years. This is happening in front of our eyes. It cannot car ry on indefinitely. In the past we watched and did nothing - now we need to do something. This heavy machinery can excavate as much jade in one month as 50 years of digging could produce in the past. I dare not think too hard about it. Despite all of this production, the country is still not benefiting.

The only people who are benefiting, or taking profit, are foreign investors masquerading as Myanmar ethnic people. As locals, we all know about this. For example, even though we think the sales price of jade at the Myanma Gems Emporium [in Nay Pyi Taw] is expensive, we have never seen the most precious stones, which are sent illegally to China and do not reach markets in Myanmar.

The priceless gems are sent to markets in places like Guangzhou, in a number of different ways. The companies can carry jade illegally because their parent companies are Chinese. We should seriously forbid this from happening, so that there are no illegal outflows from our country. I want everyone to know that the income from jade trading should be financing our country.

How will you handle the illegal jade trade with China?

Hpakant is the main place where the issues, difficulties and problems from the whole of Myanmar are combined. Problems with narcotics and migrant workers are inextricable from problems with jade. It is difficult to decide which one to solve first when we have to solve them all.

Our main objectives are to fulfil the fundamental needs of those living nearby, to secure their lives and their properties. We have a responsibility for all of them. Particularly we must solve the problem of migrant labourers being killed when searching for raw stones. There is so much that you have not seen or heard. According to reports, 114 people died in a recent landslide. That figure conceals the real number of deaths.

People from all across Myanmar travel to Hpakant to search for uncut stones and they often face death while searching through jade mine tailings. As a local Pyithu Hluttaw MP, how will you ensure such cases do not happen?

Accidental death is not unusual in Hpakant. If there are one or two deaths, the police don’t even investigate. The number of deaths due to traffic accidents and landslides are too high. The main reason for this is poverty. People in such poverty who believe they can make money don’t care about the dangers they face. This is one of our challenges.

We plan to do something to protect the rights of itinerant jade hunters. They should have the right to search freely. We are now working out how to reduce the height of tailings piles for their safety.

How to you plan to target foreign investment under the names of Myanmar people?

The responsible people from our government departments know exactly who works for which company, and who is doing what. Behind the companies are gangs and armed groups, especially those who launder drugs money. The officials know all about them, but they close their eyes, as it is also stated in the Global Witness report [published last year]. We know what is happening but we have not taken much action. It is rather difficult.

How many foreigners are mining in Hpakant under the names of Myanmar people?

It is difficult to say exactly. But as most people know, 95 percent of the companies here are owned primarily by Chinese investors. Even the supervisors of lower-rank workers are mostly Chinese. Only they could do that job. Chinese businesspeople join with privileged people from Myanmar – mostly officers. We see this again and again.
 
According to our law, only Myanmar citizens can mine in Hpakant. Chinese nationals with Myanmar citizenship are running the businesses, but behind them are Chinese companies. Without doubt – some of the backers stay in the shadows, others are more visible. It is illegal. But before we do anything, we need to discuss this with all related stakeholders. So it is difficult for me to say any more about it.

Do you have a plan to raise these issues in the new parliament?

Yes, of course. I plan to take action as required, after negotiating with local residents and business people, or to amend or enact the necessary laws.

My main intention is to settle all the problems together. If jade mining continues without any regulation in Hpakant, the precious stone will soon disappear, as it has in Mogok and Mineshu. All the locals are concerned about it.

The state, civil society and local people all need to conserve this resource as their national duty. Because of the mining, local people have suffered from the environmental impact. Our region is facing climate change now. We have faced flooding and drought even though it is a land abundant in springs.


Locals to resume protests over dumping of mining waste in Hpakant

Zarni Mann

The Irrawaddy

25 February 2016

Residents of Lone Khin in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township said on Thursday they would resume protests against the dumping of mining waste in the area after mining companies allegedly failed to comply with an agreement reached last week.

Protests were staged earlier this month in several villages of Hpakant Township over the continued dumping of waste soil from nearby jade mines in or around communities, which locals said were dangerous and impacted local waterways.

On Friday, the protests, which had involved preventing company trucks from reaching areas to dump waste, were reportedly suspended after authorities and villagers negotiated an agreement.

Officials said that local authorities, representatives from mining companies and concerned villagers signed an agreement stipulating that the mining companies would halt the dumping of waste soil from jade mines in areas near local villages.

However, most locals said they were not aware of the apparent settlement.

According to local protesters, the stipulations of the agreement were not being followed by mining companies or officials.

“Until now, they keep dumping waste soil and no action has been taken yet, as promised. That’s why we decided to resume the roadblock protest,” said Nung Lat, a local involving in the protests.

“We lifted the roadblock [on Friday] as they promised they would avoid vi llage areas and would clean up the mess as soon as possible. But they signed the agreements without the knowledge of locals and then spread news that the protests were ended.”

Protesters said officials or company representatives were yet to respond to the news that protests would resume.


Senior officials implicated in Myanmar jade probe: official

Agence France-Presse

4 March 2016

Two senior Myanmar officials were purged from their posts this week after an investigation over corruption in the country's multi-billion-dollar jade mining industry, authorities said Friday.

The heads of Myanmar's customs and trade departments were stripped of their positions and accused of illegally importing heavy machinery used to dig for jade in northern Kachin state, said Zaw Htay, director general of the president's office.

It was a rare government admission that officials were involved in corrupt practices in the shadowy and vastly lucrative jade industry, which feeds huge demand for the precious stone in neighbouring China.

Public outcry has intensified in recent months as ever-larger diggers claw huge swathes of the landscape in Kachin's Hpakant mining area, which has seen a string of deadly landslides.

"These two officials were involved in the import of machinery to dig for jade in Hpakant and the president's office has taken action against them," Zaw Htay said, adding that there was no indication that criminal proceedings would be taken against them.

He said other officials also accused of wrongdoing in the inquiry worked for the home affairs, commerce, finance and mining ministries and it would be up to their respective departments to decide how to deal with them.

The government inquiry into the jade industry began in December as a series of landslides in Hpakant left scores of miners dead and stoked public alarm over the notoriously opaque industry.

Local activists accuse mining firms of ramping up extraction ahead of Myanmar's delicate transition to a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

Advocacy group Global Witness has said jade mining in Myanmar could be "the biggest natural resource heist in modern history", with those raking in profits including sanctioned cronies, drug lords and military figures from the former junta regime.

Last year it estimated the value of jade produced in 2014 was around $31 billion -- far exceeding the $3.4 billion sold at Myanmar' s gem emporium that year, the country's only official market for international sales of the precious stone.

The state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper in February reported that Myanmar officially earned $567 million from jade exports in the nine months to December 2015, according to the ministry of commerce.

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