Around 200 acres of land has been confiscated by platinum mining companies in Tachilek Township, eastern Shan State, despite nascent democratic reforms by the Burmese government, according to report released by the Lahu Women’s Organization (LWO).
Grab For White Gold has been produced by the Thailand-based LWO and two other local land activists and was presented at a press conference in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, on Tuesday.
The two activists told reporters that eight villages—comprising a total of 393 households and 2,000 people—have been impacted by the platinum mining companies. There are also reports of sexual harassment, abductions and girls being cheated into marriage as a consequence.
Ore produced in the region is sold to China at around US $3,000 per ton with the LWO accusing Burmese companies such Sai Laung Hein, U Myint Aung, Hein Lin San and Wunna Thein Than of running the mining operations.
The disputed farmland has belonged to ethnic people—including Shan, Akha and Lahu communities—for generations. The companies force them to sell their land at around half the true value, or simply confiscate it without compensation despite protests from the rightful owners.
Na Ve Bon, a land activist from eastern Shan State, said that ethnic people have not benefited from the current political reform process underway in Burma. The situation remains unchanged in that minority groups must still live in fear just as they did in the past, she added.
“Some people say there are many openings in Burma,” said Na Ve Bon. “But for us, we do not see any change in our community yet. There is only freedom of traveling with no checks.”
Burmese government propaganda signboards reading “Land of White Gold” throughout eastern Shan State have attracted many mining companies, claims the group. While there were only five firms in the beginning, today there are 15 in the area, according to the report which cites newly discovered ore deposits for the rise.
The region remains under threaten from deforestation and other environmental damage, claims the LWO. Water has become poisoned and there are even shortages in four out of the eight affected villages because of the mines.
“We can only see there are more companies coming into our areas, but it has no advantage for local people,” said Na Ve Bon.
The companies only know how to earn a profit and do not care about the environment, said Na Ve Bon, adding that the situation will get worse as there is no rule of law to protect nature in Burma.
The livelihoods of local people have also been ruined as they cannot earn enough money to support themselves after their properties are confiscated. Some people have moved to Tachilek Township and rent farmland to work there, while others seek refuge with relatives and find new jobs.
In the past, families would grow rice, tea, fruit or rear goats. They would then sell any excess produce at the markets of Tachelik Township. Currently, one acre of paddy land costs one million Thai baht (US $32,000). From the eight villages documented in the LWO report, an estimated 100 children could not join school this year as their families were unable to pay for the classes.
The report was compiled from information gathered from 2010 to 2011 and documents companies threatening to remove landowners by force if they did not agree to the price offered. The firms said that otherwise the Burmese military would confiscate the land and the farmers would get nothing.
Some local people have tried to issue complaints, but the companies have deemed their land as “limited areas” which protesters are unable to reach, said the activists. Those compensated only receive around half the true value of their property, claims the LWO.
The companies started mining in the area around 2006 after a Chinese firm found minerals that could be used to make bullets, but then the operation was later expanded to produce platinum.