Chinese Prospectors Stake a Claim in Arakan State

By Nyein Nyein & Khin Oo Tha 2 January 2013

A Chinese company has been given permission to test sand in northern Arakan State for suspected deposits of aluminum and titanium, raising concerns among local people about the possible impact of a mining operation in the area.

The state’s mining minister, Aung Than Tin, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the company is testing sand found along the coasts of Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships for the valuable metals, and said that “if the tests are successful, the project will continue.”

The company, called Shwe Shapweye (“Gold Finder”) in Burmese, received permission to prospect along the Ale Than Kyaw beach in Maungdaw and Angu Maw beach in Rathedaung from Naypyidaw, he added.

Local residents say that Chinese companies first started making exploratory digs in the two areas in 2010, leaving behind gaping holes and large piles of sand that have since caused mudslides.

“The collapse of these sand pits has damaged the beaches,” said Ko Ko Maung, a resident of Rathedaung township, who added that there has recently been an increase in the number of Chinese businesspeople visiting the area.

The Chinese first started coming in 2010 in search of natural gas and petroleum, he said, but instead discovered deposits of aluminum and titanium.

The return of Chinese business interests to the area has prompted local groups to threaten protests if there is any danger of further environmental damage.

A member of Rakhine National Network told The Irrawaddy that “if the project is not helpful for the local residents and there is a significant negative impact on the environment, we will object to it, because other projects operating in Rakhine [Arakan] State have brought no benefits to local people.”

State Mining Minister Aung Than Tin said the state government will act in accordance with the locals’ desires, but added that “the project is still at a very early stage, and we have not made any decision yet.”