Hpakant Villagers Threatened with Legal Action after Jade Mine Blockade

By Zarni Mann 14 December 2015

MANDALAY — Locals from the Hpakant Jade mining region in Kachin State have been threatened with legal action by authorities after staging a roadblock to halt dozens of trucks planning to dump mine waste in nearby villages.

Local officials, including representatives of Hpakant’s municipal government, met with the locals on Sunday and urged them to disband the roadblock, warning those present that they could face criminal proceedings.

“They said we can be arrested and sued, but we decided not to reopen the blockade because we don’t want the soil near our village anymore,” said Kai Rwae, a resident of Seng La village.

The roadblock was formed in response to what locals say is a sudden and sharp increase in recent weeks of mining activity in Hpakant, which is still reeling from a deadly landslide in November that claimed the lives of at least 113 prospectors. Locals allege that mine tailings were being regularly dumped in the vicinity of Seng La, Mazut Pyan, Aung Larang and Seng Khar villages.

“Waste soil dumped by the mining companies near our villages is increasing, and that hurts our crops and plantations. In recent days, over a hundred dump trucks came to dump soil. We can’t accept it anymore,” Kai Rwae told The Irrawaddy, adding that several requests to stop the dumping had been ignored.

Locals also say that there has been an attendant increase in the presence of heavy machinery operating in the area’s mines, including more than 100 dump trucks without license plates, leading to concerns about the potential environmental impacts. Floods and landslides are a regular occurrence in the region, and locals claim that some of the soil waste from the mines has found its way into the Uru River, which is exacerbating flooding in nearby villages during the rainy season.

“It is unusual that hundreds of dump trucks are rapidly pouring into the area,” said Awng Seng, a local jade merchant. “Some of the heavy machinery, we’ve never seen anything like it in our lives. We wonder if the companies are trying to dig as much as they can before the new government takes power.”

“Those dump trucks without license plates we think are coming through the Chinese border, as some of them have Chinese script on them. We want to know if they have been permitted to trespass freely through our region like this.”

According to the figures from local jade merchants, more than five hundred jade mining companies are now working in the area since mining resumed in late 2014. Operations had earlier ceased due to security concerns over the Burma Army’s long-running conflict with the Kachin Independence Organization.

“This mass mining has been happening since early November, right after the election,” said La Htuang, a Hpakant-based social worker. “We’ve asked the state government to stop this. We will now report it to the Union government because we believe this kind of activity is illegal.”