Five Chinese Arrested for Trespassing, Illegal Immigration in Kachin

By Nan Lwin 20 May 2019

YANGON— Five Chinese employees were among 10 arrested on counts of trespassing in a protected area and illegal migration during a crackdown on controversial Chinese tissue-culture banana plantations in Kachin State on Sunday.

Led by the Kachin State Forestry Department, local authorities carried out a series of raids on five companies growing bananas on approximately 1,000 acres in Washawng, Nam Wa and Hkawng Hpu protected forest areas in Waimaw Township, close to the state capital Myitkyina. The companies facing lawsuits are Generation Star, Loi Ngu Bum, Shein Thar, Mali Kha Dragon and Jingpho Nadi.

“We already gave them warnings to leave the forest areas. However, they did not obey us,” deputy director of the forestry department U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin told The Irrawaddy. He said their efforts to crack down on the illegal operations started in the second week of May.

During the crackdown, the authorities found five illegal Chinese employees in the Jingpho Nadi company, U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin said.

The forestry department opened cases against five local managers and five Chinese nationals from five companies for trespassing on protected forest areas. Waimaw Immigration Department also filed lawsuits against the five Chinese nationals for illegal immigration.

Head of the immigration department in Waimaw Township, U Soe Min, told The Irrawaddy, “They don’t have official documents to work here.”

Despite backlash from local residents, the plantations have been expanding rapidly, particularly in Waimaw Township—now the location of nearly 150,000 acres of Chinese tissue-culture banana plantations. The operators are accused of unfairly taking over land previously leased from the authorities by locals, many of whom were displaced by conflict.

“The banana plantation issue became quite controversial. There were serious discussions even in the Parliament. But the local government still need to implement some rules and regulations to take action against them,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin.

“But for us (the forestry department), we can take action against them immediately as they have trespassed into the forest areas, so we decided to begin our part,” he added.

The state government has been criticized by local environmental experts for neglecting the social and environmental impacts of banana plantations. Banned from Laos and Thailand, Banana plantations started appearing in war-torn Kachin State in 2007.

According to the Kachin agriculture ministry, there are 40 local companies registered to operate banana plantations. However, civil society and environmental organization say 85 percent of the plantations are operated by Chinese companies disguised as local businesses.

A recent report by the Land Security and Environmental Conservation Group comprising 11 civil society organizations said local workers are suffering rights abuses at the hands of the companies, particularly in the form of low pay compared with Chinese workers. Locals have complained that the huge influx of Chinese workers has resulted in an increase in human trafficking and drug abuse.

In March, Kachin State’s newly-appointed minister of agriculture, livestock and irrigation U Kyaw Kyaw Win told The Irrawaddy he would set up mechanisms to tighten regulations of banana plantations in response to local residents’ complaints.

The Kachin agriculture ministry has officially documented around 63,000 acres of banana plantations, but civil society organizations have recorded more than 170,000 acres across Waimaw, Bhamo, Shwegu, Mansi, Momauk and Dokphoneyan townships.

According to the latest data collected by the forestry department, the companies are trespassing on almost 5,000 acres of protected forest area in Kachin State.

“We could not enter 4,000 acres of protected forest area for security reasons, although we already know a big company is operating banana plantations there,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Lwin.

Kachin-based civil society organizations allege that large areas are being planted with bananas in Kachin State’s Special Region 1, which is under the control of the government-allied New Democratic Army-Kachin militia.

According to a 2017 environmental study by the Lisu Civil Society Organization, the companies are using insecticides, weed killers and fertilizers and disposing of them carelessly. This has led to the pollution of water supplies in these areas, in turn causing soil damage and killing fish and livestock.

In March more than 50 farmers from multiple villages in two townships of Myitkyina Township told the media they were threatened by Chinese companies for opposing banana plantations near their villages.

In late February, a mining company detained and assaulted two journalists from a local Myitkyina publication for reporting local residents’ concerns over a controversial Chinese tissue-culture banana plantation in Waimaw Township. The managing director and staff of the company face five charges, including for the assault of a woman and wrongful restraint.