Four Chinese nationals were arrested for illegal silica mining in Namkham Township in northern Shan State on Monday afternoon.
Local residents joined authorities to apprehend the four men along with two trucks transporting silica—a mineral extracted from sand—in Wen Kam village of Namma village tract in the township, Namkham resident U Sai Yi told The Irrawaddy.
He said locals had long opposed mining in their area. “There were previous cases of Chinese men taking away mineral stones with trucks,” he said.
U Kyaw Kyaw Tun, the lead administrator of Muse District, which includes Namkham Township, told The Irrawaddy that authorities had already suspended silica mining, including by licensed companies, in Namkham Township—after sustained local activism and petitioning.
“We arrested four Chinese men and seized two trucks carrying stones. We are investigating where they dug those stones from, and to which company they belong. They are now being detained at Namkham Township police station,” U Kyaw Kyaw Tun told The Irrawaddy.
The Department of Immigration and Population is investigating how the Chinese nationals entered Burma. Authorities are also checking whether or not the two trucks are licensed.
Due to grievances that silica mining was harming the local environment and damaging farmland, on Sept. 5, 2014, more than 3,000 people demonstrated in Namkham demanding an immediate stop to mining in the area.
On Sept. 8 of that year, 10 Shan community-based organizations released a join statement saying that mining should be halted until mining practices are reformed and peace is secured in the area, which has seen recurrent clashes between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups in recent years.
“The [silica] mining has led to floods, damaging more than 100 acres of nearby land and crops there,” activist Nang Muay Noom Hom told The Irrawaddy at the time. “Roads were also damaged by the floods and there have been fatal road accidents.”
Six mining companies started to operate silica mines in Namhkam in 2012, exporting the mineral across the nearby border with China’s Yunnan Province, said Nang Muay Noom Hom.
Silica, or silicon dioxide, is a chemical compound that exists naturally as quartz and as a major component in sand. It is used commercially around the world in soaps and cosmetic products.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko