Myanmar Military Chief Eyes Tea, Coffee Production in Ethnic Militia Area

By San Yamin Aung 3 December 2019

YANGON – Myanmar’s military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has discussed tea and coffee plantations and building a processing hub in an ethnic Pa-O militia-controlled area of southern Shan State.

The trip points to an expansion of military-run businesses, which already range from banking to bus services to breweries.

The military-run TV broadcaster Myawady reported that the army chief visited Naungtaya in Pinlaung Township in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone, meeting thousands of residents on Monday.

Pinlaung is home to more than 4,000 hectares of tea plantations and is associated with high-quality produce.

The region has recently started growing coffee for export and is looking to reach new international markets.

The military chief’s visit came a few days after State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s tour of Pa-O-controlled Kyauk Talone Gyi.

The State Counselor attended a religious donation ceremony organized by the Pa-O National Organization (PNO) patron U Aung Kham Hti and made a donation.

Once counted among Myanmar’s many ethnic armed groups, the PNO signed a ceasefire with the military regime in 1991, transforming itself into a political party with a militia that manages security in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone. Its leaders remain close to the military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Myawady reported that the senior general said the military was trying to boost Pa-O prosperity.

Lower House parliamentarian Ko Khun Aung Kyaw, the son of U Aung Kham Hti, told The Irrawaddy that the military would build a tea-processing factory in a joint venture with the community.

“It’s in the planning phase. He also inspected a plot in Naungtaya, the potential site for a tea factory,” Ko Khun Aung Kyaw said.

Pinlaung Township parliamentarian Ko Khun Hla San, who attended the meeting on Monday, told The Irrawaddy that community representatives mainly asked the commander-in-chief for assistance in creating value-added production in the region.

“The region would like to produce value-added coffee and tea products and increase the people’s income,” he added.

He said Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told them that the military would offer technical assistance for tea and coffee factories.