The Irrawaddy

Coal Miners Given Permission to Resume Controversial Projects in Shan State

The Union government has given permission to two coal-mining companies in Mongkaing Township in southern Shan State to resume operations despite opposition from local people.

The two companies, Pyae Aung Hein and Hein Mitter, received permission to restart their coal-mining operations in Mongkaing after temporarily stopping work following protests by local groups.

Sai Lynn Myat, a member of the Shan State government and the minister of natural resources, environment and electric power, told The Irrawaddy today that the Union government had sent a letter to the Shan State government granting permission for the mines to reopen, but asked the companies to negotiate with local residents to avoid conflicts.

“Our government received a letter dated May 30, allowing those two mining companies to continue working,” Sai Lynn Myat said.

The Pyae Aung Hein and Hein Mitter companies were granted permission in 2014 by the central government in Naypyitaw to start coal-mining projects in Mongkaing Township, which is in Loilem District, southern Shan State.

The Shan Herald Agency for News reported last year that the coal-mining operations would cause irreparable damage to 2,000 acres of land, including conifer forests, mountains and farmland.

Local ethnic Shan residents protested several times, and operations at the two mining sites, which are beside each other, were suspended. Hundreds of ethnic Shan protested in May last year to demand the two companies leave the region.

Some ethnic Shan lawmakers including local community leaders sent letters to the Union and state parliaments, and the government asking for the mining operations to cease amid concern they will cause environmental damage in Mongkaing.

The two companies suspended work three months ago, according to local sources, but mining may start up again soon now that they have permission from the Union government.

“Our local people will not accept those mining companies even if the Union government allows them to resume working in our township,” said Sai Lon, a state lawmaker in Mongkaing.

“But I heard that the companies will negotiate with our local people, especially with our Buddhist monks. They will try their best to find a negotiated settlement,” he said.

“The companies should move out from our region. That is the best way,” he said.

Sai Shwe Thein, a senior member of the National League for Democracy from Mongkaing Township said, “We do see it as a good thing that mining companies come and invest in our town. But there needs to be transparency.

“There are lawmakers and community leaders in Mongkaing. The company needs to negotiate and talk with these people. If there is transparency, our local Shan will not demand they leave,” he said.

He said the companies also needed to share some of the proceeds from the mines with the local community, as well as support healthcare and education programs, and build better infrastructure for local people.

“There should be a monitoring committee to check that the mining companies are bettering the environment base as they promised,” Sai Shwe Thein said.

Local ethnic Shan are worried about water runoff from the two coal-mining operations will pollute the environment and their farmlands. They are also worried about their health as the two mines are only seven miles away from the town area, sources said.