Myanmar Junta Accused of Backing Illegal Gold Mines in Kachin State

By The Irrawaddy 15 March 2023

There has been a rapid expansion in illegal gold mining in Kachin State since the Myanmar military’s 2021 coup, with illicit gold mines operating around Myitsone, the confluence of the Mali and N’mai rivers, as well as along those two rivers and in Sumprabum and Putao, the northernmost towns in Myanmar.

Kachin State is increasingly suffering from environmental degradation and contamination since the military takeover, as the junta and its cronies mine gold, jade and rare earth minerals on a wide scale, according to the Kachin National Forum, a network of 12 Kachin civil society organizations.

Gold mines using China-made machinery have been operating day and night at the confluence of the Mali and N’mai rivers, north of the Kachin capital Myitkyina, since late last year. In some areas, miners are digging 300 feet beneath the river bed, said Myitkyina residents.

Locals said that miners are now mainly using machinery to dig for gold, unlike in the past.

One Myitkyina resident said: “Most of the miners are powerful and influential business owners. I say that because we have been mounting considerable opposition in Myitsone, as well as at the Mali and N’mai rivers. But they [the mine owners] say that they are mining legally. So they must have ties to those in power. We don’t have a legitimate government now and we don’t know where we should complain. And the mines are continuing to operate, ignoring the objections of local people.”

Myanmar’s military regime has told some media agencies that it has not permitted the mining of gold, jade and rare earth minerals in Kachin State, and that it is taking action against illegal miners.

A local environmental activist told The Irrawaddy: “We saw Chinese men at the mines in the early days. But we barely see them these days. But the machinery is China-made stuff that we have never seen before. There are thousands of pieces of machinery along the N’mai River. Previously, there was only small-scale mining in Sumprabum and Putao, but now they are also digging with machinery there.”

Business owners persuade locals to allow gold mining near their villages by doing development work for them such as repairing and building roads and bridges, added the activist.

While some locals still oppose gold mining, they dare not be too vocal out of concern for their safety, said villagers.

Gold mining is also rampant in N’dum Latep, a historic site in the Landaung village-tract of Putao Township, said residents.

In a statement released March 4, the Kachin National Forum called for an immediate cessation of gold mining and for the protection of natural resources in ethnic areas, saying overexploitation of resources in Kachin will result in negative environmental impact in the future.

In areas close to gold mines, locals have been robbed of their livelihoods and are experiencing river shoreline erosion.

The confluence at the Mali and N’mai rivers will vanish in the next five years if gold mining continues on the current scale, said conservationists.

Gold mines are already poisoning the water supply and depleting fish resources along the Ayeyarwady River in Kachin, noted residents.