MAC: Mines and Communities

Burma: Gold mining precedes Irrawaddy dam destruction

Published by MAC on 2010-01-26
Source: Kachin News Group (2009-12-18)

It's a tripple whammy that is currently being visited upon communites in the Irrawaddy region of Burma.

Not only is a contentious dam to be constructed on the Irrawaddy River, necessitating the forced removal of local villagers. 

The regime is also handing out permits to Chinese and other companies to dig out the area's gold, before it's flooded. 

This is both undermining the land and destroying people's timber resources.

Gold mining precedes dam construction on Irrawaddy River

Written by Kachin News Group

18 December 2009

Gold mining activity has begun in areas to be flooded by the dam on Burma's famous Irrawaddy River confluence in Kachin State before the contentious dam construction starts, said local sources.

Seven large companies including the Burma-Asia World Company, the prime contractor for constructing the dam project and Yuzana Company have swung into full-scale gold mining activities. Dozens of bulldozers, power shovels, trucks and other mining machines are in evidence since December 4, said local residents.

Many new camps, tents and huts for gold miners have been constructed near the mines in the dam project site and around the Irrawaddy confluence village Tang Hpre, 27 miles north of Myitkyina. The gold mining activities are on day and night, according to Tang Hpre's villagers.

Meanwhile, foreign and local visitors to the confluence are being disturbed by the gold mining work. One of the most popular places to relax in the country is turning ugly because of the gold mines, said locals.

About 2000 Chinese labourers under the Asia World Company are also into logging, gold mining and digging tunnels at the dam project site. They have been secretly transported to the site at night in groups from China through the border in Kachin State since late October, said sources among them.

The junta has granted special gold mining permits in the zones to be affected by floods to the two ethnic Kachin armed groups that dissolved their organizations and came under the control of the Burmese regime recently. They are the former New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and Lasang Awng Wa Peace Group (LAWPG), said sources in the two groups.

Before the gold mining grants were handed out, former NDA-K leader Zahkung Ting Ying and former LAWPG leader Lasang Awng Wa submitted proposals to the military leaders in Naypyitaw asking for gold mining permits in the predicted flood zones of the Irrawaddy dam, said sources close to the two leaders.

The proposals stated that digging out gold from the dam's flood zones is better than wasting it in flood waters, and that the revenue from the gold can be used for development projects, according to local companies.

Local companies desirous of getting gold mining blocks in the dam project sites were told to apply to the junta under the names of former NDA-K and LAWPG by the military authorities in Myitkyina, said company sources.

People of Tang Hpre and other residents around Irrawaddy dam sites have been increasingly persuaded or pressurized in different ways to relocate by the military authorities after Burma and China signed in Beijing in June to implement the Myitsone hydropower project and other hydropower projects in Mali Hka River and N'Mai Hka River in Kachin State, said local residents.

Before the latest agreement, officials of the Chinese government-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) and the Asia World Company were into inspection activities on the confluence as of 2006.

Kachin people has appealed to the junta to put a halt to the confluence dam project since 2007 because ethnic Kachins are worried the flood waters from the dam will damage their invaluable natural heritage--- the Confluence, or Mali-N'Mai Zup in Kachin. It is known for its beauty and is historically linked to ancient Kachin civilizations in northern Burma.

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