Myanmar Junta to Restart Controversial Quarry at Rakhine’s Marble Mountain

By The Irrawaddy 12 December 2022

Myanmar’s military regime is planning to restart the controversial Nayputaung marble quarry in Taungup Township, Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Quarrying at Nayputaung was suspended under the now-ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government.

The regime now plans to revive the quarry under a joint venture with Vietnam’s Simco Song Da Joint Stock Co.

U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government signed a contract with Simco Song Da in 2012 to produce decorative marble at Nayputaung (Mount Naypu) until 2032.

Production started the following year but Taungup residents complained they were receiving no benefits from the project while expressing serious concerns about its environmental impacts. Environmentalists from other parts of Rakhine joined a campaign demanding an immediate end to quarrying at Nayputaung, saying the project amounted to environmental vandalism and was proceeding against the wishes of the local community.

Following a constant stream of protests, the project was finally suspended in 2018 under the NLD government.

However, the junta announced on Nov. 25 that a joint management committee comprising representatives from its Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the Vietnamese company had been formed to oversee the restart of operations at Nayputaung.

Residents, environmentalists and others were dismayed by the news.

“Such valuable resources are not something that should be sold to foreign countries,” said Ko Tun Kyi, director of the Peace and Development Center based in Kyaukphyu Township, Rakhine State.

“It takes thousands of years for a marble mountain to form. We the people cannot accept such a valuable thing being recklessly sold off.”

Rakhine environmentalists said the project lacks transparency, with no publicly available data about revenue from the marble quarrying or how profits were shared. They also complained that locals have never been told about the quarry’s environmental impacts.

Rakhine Women’s Network chairwoman Daw Nyo Aye said: “We raised objections when the project started. They are now planning to resume it and we have a lot of concerns. We are concerned there could be landslides along the road if the entire mountain is flattened.”

Nayputaung is located on the Taungup-Pantaung road about 50 kilometers from Taungup town. The project covers over 240 hectares.

It is expected to produce over 7,000 tonnes of marble stone per year, said environmentalists, citing the contract.

Simco Song Da reportedly quarried many large square blocks weighing hundreds of tonnes from the mountain between 2013 and 2017. It is not clear how many tonnes were extracted in total. However, locals say 60 percent of the mountain has gone.

Marble is a high-value cool stone used for walls, floors and interior décor in luxury buildings.

Residents in Taungup cannot protest on the streets for fear of a junta crackdown, but they are against the resumption of the project, said Rakhine environmentalists.