RANGOON — A Shan human rights group has pressed the Burmese government to immediately suspend all resource extraction projects in ethnic states that have been ravaged by conflict and to end Burma Army offenses against civilians.
The group stated that such projects should only be considered after a federal peace settlement has been reached, granting local communities ownership and usage rights of natural resources in their regions.
The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) documented detailed accounts of Burma Army abuses against civilians during military action to secure the local coal mines in Shan State’s Hsipaw Township in May. The group’s recent “Killing for Coal” report highlighted arbitrary arrest, looting, torture and killing.
In operation since the 1990s, the Nam Ma coal mines in Hsipaw Township have contributed to environmental destruction and the loss of crops in nearby villages, according to a SHRF representative.
Sai Kheun Mai, SHRF spokesperson, said, “more than 30 acres of farmland have been destroyed because of the project and more than 100 acres are likely to be affected in Kho Lang Pha, about five kilometers south of Nam Ma.”
Villagers have experienced not only environmental degradation, Sai Kheun Mai added, but also human rights abuses, due to an increase of Burma Army troops in the region this year.
In May, locals were forced to flee their homes due to conflict between the Burma Army—which protects the Nam Ma project and maintains control of the surrounding area—and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) troops based in the area.
Although the fighting has decreased in recent months since the SSPP/SSA-N troops left the area, the presence of government military troops persists.
Some internally displaced persons managed to return to their respective villages in May and June to attend to their farms during the growing season.
Regarding suspension of the Nam Ma project, Shan State lawmaker Nang San San Aye told The Irrawaddy that when she raised the issue in divisional parliament two weeks ago, the state minister of natural resources said the decision would come from the Union-level government.
“I asked the state parliamentary speaker and my constituency’s Union-level lawmakers to raise the issue in the Union Parliament. We are still waiting to hear,” she said.
Civilians and activists have voiced dissatisfaction with the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s tackling of public safety issues, especially related to those concerning the military. SHRF, an outspoken voice for ethnic minority rights, continuously urges for an end to the war, military offenses, and the impunity granted to military personnel in regards to human rights violations.
“We cannot depend on the government to protect civilians’ safety. So, if my people want the project to stop because they’ve faced many losses, I will stand with them,” the state lawmaker added.