NAYPYITAW — Two Lower House lawmakers have asked President U Win Myint to help secure approval for small-scale amber and gold mining in Kachin State’s Tanai and Hpakant townships.
U Lin Lin Oo of Tanai and U Tint Soe of Hpakant sent their request to the president, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation on Sept. 17.
Unlike large-scale mining, the use of heavy machinery is not allowed in small-scale mining.
U Lin Lin Oo said allowing individuals to mine on a small scale would create jobs and that the government could earn tax from them. He said small-scale mining has less impact on the environment and on resources than commercial mining with heavy machinery.
“According to reports from the ground, some individuals are doing small-scale mining. It might be illegal mining. According to locals, small-scale amber mining is allowed in Tanai, but not with machinery,” U Lin Lin Oo said.
Now that the Myanmar Army has wrested control of the amber mining areas in Tanai from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the military is responsible for working with non-governmental organizations to establish the rule of law there, the lawmaker said.
The Myanmar Army launched attacks on unlicensed amber mines in Tanai in June 2017. It is believed that illegal gold and amber mining in Kachin are among the KIA’s main sources of revenue.
Natural Resources Ministry Director General U Ye Myint Swe said the ministry has designated small-scale mining fields in response to the two lawmakers’ request. He said the Kachin State government had the authority to permit small-scale mining fields and that the ministry sent it a list of feasible sites.
Mining bylaws authorize local governments to grant individuals small-scale gold mines but not amber mines, which fall under the law on gemstones, said U Lin Lin Oo.
He said he made a direct appeal to the president because of Tanai’s unusual circumstances, apparently referring to the ongoing armed struggle for control of the area between the KIA and Myanmar Army.
“State governments are authorized to issue licenses for small-scale mining. But our region is different, so they [the Kachin State government] said they have difficulties. This is why I made a request to the president to ask the union government to intervene,” the lawmaker said.
Loi Khen, a resident of Hpakant Township, said the area’s gemstones were become increasingly hard to come by.
“Almost all the gemstones have been mined now. It is not easy for individual miners to mine there. Gemstones can be found only deep in the ground, so it is not easy for us to dig,” he told The Irrawaddy.
He said some prospectors have resorted to the dangerous practice of searching for gemstones in old, abandoned mines.
On Tuesday, four miners were killed when a mining waste pile collapsed on them after a downpour.
In July 2017, the Lower House approved a proposal from U Lin Lin Oo to control illegal gold and amber mining in Tanai and Hpakant.
At the time, Natural Resources Minister U Ohn Win said Kachin State should legitimize small-scale mining to ensure the safety of individual prospectors and to prevent illegal operations.
In 2016, the union government announced that it would stop renewing the licenses of jade mining companies until it completed an environmental management plan for jade mining areas in Kachin. Almost all the jade mining licenses expired earlier this year.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.