Security Concerns Hamper Tackling Illegal Gold Mining Around Indawgyi Lake

By Tin Htet Paing 31 May 2017

RANGOON — Burma’s environmental ministry said it could not effectively take action against illegal gold mining around Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State’s Mohnyin Township due to the proximity of clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups.

Lower House lawmaker Daw San San Ei representing Mohnyin Township raised a question in parliament on Wednesday, inquiring how the government would take action against illegal gold mining around the lake which is damaging local ecosystems.

Indawgyi Lake—Burma’s largest and South East Asia’s third largest with a surface of over 100 square miles—was designated a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention last year, aiming to address concerns over wetland loss and degradation.

According to research by local conservationists, Indawgyi Lake supports the livelihoods of thousands of people and is also home to a great diversity of water animals, fish and endangered migrating birds.

Indawgyi Lake is located some 30 km away from the nearest army base and though there are some troops stationed near the lake, locals say the road to the lake runs through an area where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has a strong presence.

Fighting has been ongoing between the KIA and the Burma Army around Mohnyin, Mogaung, Tanai, Hpakant and Mansi townships, leading to displaced residents and school closures.

Responding to the lawmaker’s question, the Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation U Ohn Win briefly explained that neither his ministry nor the Kachin State government has given permits to anyone for gold mining in the area and that the ministry needs cooperation from locals and non-government organizations to tackle the issue.

“Depending on how much security the [Kachin] state government could provide for our ground inspection, we will coordinate with regional administration to take action against illegal gold mining,” minister U Ohn Win said to parliament.

He also added that a total of six miners had been arrested for illegal gold mining during the 2016-17 fiscal year.

U Win Zaw, a deputy permanent secretary with the ministry, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that there are “limitations” for ministry staff to be able to do regular ground inspections of illegal mining in the Indawgyi area.

Since Burma ratified the Ramsar Convention in 2005, three locations have been designated as Ramsar sites in the country—Moe Yun Gyi Wetlands Wildlife Sanctuary in Bago Division, the Indawgyi Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State and the Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary in the Irrawaddy Delta.