Govt Still Studying Controversial Nickel Mine in Chin State: Minister

By Paul Vrieze 19 June 2014

RANGOON — Burma’s Deputy Minister for Mines Than Tun Aung has told the Upper House on Wednesday that his ministry has yet to approve a controversial nickel mine project, located on the border of Chin State and Sagaing Division, state-owned media reported.

Than Tun Aung said his ministry was still studying the result of a feasibility study conducted with the permission of the Myanmar Investment Commission by North Mining Investment Co Ltd, a Hong Kong-based firm, according to The New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

In 2012, the firm began carrying out a feasibility study into nickel deposits at Mwe Mountain, which cover parts of Sagaing’s Kalay Township and Chin State’s Teddim Township, areas located close to the Burma-India border, and in 2013 it reportedly submitted the results to the Ministry of Mines and the Environment Ministry.

Than Tun Aung told lawmakers “that the mining project will be implemented only after approval by the experts in a transparent consultation with the state government, the regional government and the local people to avoid future problems,” state media reported.

The deputy minister said the feasibility study estimates that there are 42 million tons of metal ore at the proposed mining site, composed of 1.37 percent nickel, 16.32 percent iron, 0.88 percent chromium, 21.72 per cent magnesium dioxide and 39.46 percent silica.

Chin political parties and activists have spoken out at against the massive project since last year. They demand that the government releases more project information, ensures that environmental safeguards are put in place for the project and allocates a share of its profits to Chin State, which is considered Burma’s most impoverished region.

In January, China activists and residents of Teddim Township said they were growing increasingly concerned about the project and its potential environmental impacts on communities, after company representatives visited more than 15 villages and met with the locals to explain the project.

North Mining Investment Co Ltd told locals that it expected the project—which reportedly requires financing of close to US$500 million—would begin this year. Hand-outs and posters distributed by the firm claimed the mine would benefit local communities, contribute $500,000 a year to the development of Chin State, and bring jobs to the area.

In addition to the mine, the firm would also build two smelters to process the nickel ore and a dock at Kalaywa on the Chindwin River in Sagaing Division, from where the ferronickel concentrates would be transported on to Rangoon and China, where there is a strong demand for nickel.