Villagers in Shan State Petition Govt to Cancel Coal Mine Plans

By Nyein Nyein 22 October 2018

YANGON — Villagers in Shan State afraid of the potential environmental fallout from a planned coal mine say they have submitted petitions to local authorities urging them to cancel the project.

Sai Aung Tun, a community leader, said some 600 people from six villages in Kyethi Township signed letters submitted Monday to the township, district and state offices of the General Administration Department to stop the 2,209-hectare (5,459 acre) mine, which would feed an iron mine and steel factory on Mount Pinpet in the nearby township of Hopong.

He said the letters explain that the site contains not only farms, pastures and streams but also a cemetery, monastery, clinic and school.

Township authorities notified the community on Oct. 11 of the government’s plans to lease the land to the steel factory and gave it 15 days to object.

The area was confiscated by the military in 1996 during a large-scale forced relocation campaign in central and southern Shan State that displaced more than 300,000 people. Three battalions eventually established bases on the site; one of them, Light Infantry Battalion 131, was granted a coal mining license there in 2009 by the military junta.

In March of this year, as part of a policy initiated by a quasi-civilian government in 2012 to return confiscated land, the military handed back 12 of the 2,428 hectares (6,000 acres) it had confiscated in Kyethi but kept the rest.

Monday’s letters add that 55 villagers were forced to accept 24,000 kyats ($15.18) per acre as compensation in 2010.

Sai San Mai, a Shan State lawmaker representing Kyethi, said the iron mine and steel factory were nearly finished but villagers in Kyethi were uniformly opposed to seeing their land dug up for coal.

“Our elected civilian government should have informed the villagers if we wanted to use it for agricultural purposes, but it did not do that and it wants to transfer it to the Ministry of Industry,” Sai Aung Tun told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“We don’t want this land to be excavated. Its impacts could be very bad because it could affect our health and environment. If the Nam Hen stream becomes affected from the mining, we would not be able to farm,” he added.

The villagers said the stream was the only water source for thousands of hectares of farmland and more than 18,000 people in some 50 villages.

In their letter on Monday, they said that in 2015 a military-owned company, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), sold licenses for mining blocks within the Mong Gao concession area in Kyethi for 100 million kyat ($63,000) each. They said UMEHL took 17 percent of the profits from the mines when they started operating.

Sai Aung Tun said five companies — Kanbawza Development Co. Ltd., Soe Lwin Aung Co. Ltd., Sein Naga Co. Ltd., Yu Wai Yan Co. Ltd and Ngwe Yi Pale Co. Ltd — were set to started mining but were stopped in 2016 after hundreds of locals opposed their plans.