Hpakant Protesters Negotiate with Authorities over Waste Soil Dumps

By Zarni Mann 15 February 2016

MANDALAY — Locals in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township, who began protesting in three different villages on Saturday against the continued dumping of waste soil in their areas, suspended demonstrations on Monday after authorities agreed to dialogue.

Protest camps had been set up in Lone Khin, Seng Taung and Sabaw villages of Hpakant Township, with residents issuing a set of demands to local authorities and mining companies operating in the jade-rich region and actively stopping dump trucks from depositing more waste.

Protesters demanded that mining firms: stop dumping waste in their villages; remove existing piles of waste; abide by regulations set out by the government; and cooperate to restore tributaries of the Uru River impacted by the dumping of detritus.

Protesters from Seng Taung and Sabaw villages said local authorities had visited their camps to seek a resolution.

“The authorities said they will meet with us tomorrow and will negotiate with the mining companies on our requests. So we decided to halt the protests during the negotiating period,” said Dashi Naw Lwin of Seng Taung on Monday.

“The authorities said they will push the companies to fulfill our requests and if the companies don’t follow the rules, we are allowed to protest again. We believe the local authorities will do the best for us… [but] if not, we will resume our protest.”

In the Lone Khin area, while negotiations are also underway, local authorities reportedly told protesters they would be dispersed if they did not halt their demonstration.

“Some elders are still talking with the authorities at Lone Khin police station. The police said they will use force to crack down on the camp if we do not call off the protest by tonight,” said protester La Taung on Monday.

“It seems the authorities can’t give assurances [on the part] of the mining companies. If they can agree with us, we will halt the protest during the negotiation period. If not, we have to continue our protest and then, let us be arrested.”

Protests have been held in the area since late last year, demanding an end to the dumping of dangerous mountains of refuse. A string of deadly landslides were reported in 2015, including one incident in November that claimed the lives of more than 100 local prospectors at the site of a jade mine.

Many hand-pickers are drawn from around the country to sift through huge piles of discarded waste in search of precious stone.

Hpakant residents staged a roadblock from Dec. 10 to halt dozens of trucks planning to dump mine waste in nearby villages. The blockade was called off after several villagers were allegedly abducted by members of the Kachin Independence Army.