Loikaw Residents Protest Felling of Trees to Make Way for Gov’t Office

By Nyein Nyein 10 January 2019

Locals residents are seeking to block the construction of a branch office of the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration (DICA) in Loikaw, saying it would require the felling of old trees in a small forest near Naung Yar Lake, a well-known tourist attraction.

The Kayah State Chief Minister serves as the chair of the Kayah State Investment Committee. The state cabinet approved the construction last year without proper written authorization.

On Wednesday residents demanded a halt to the cutting down of some 21 large trees including 11 teak trees in an 80 ft x 80 ft area. But the state government insisted that the construction would continue and started marking trees to be cut.

Ko Kyaw Htin Aung, a member of a technical support group called Lobbyists, Advocators, Innovators and Negotiator (LAIN) based in Loikaw, said the area should be kept as a forest garden next to the famous Naung Yar Lake. The area of less than an acre was regarded as a forest garden under the military regime and was left alone under the previous government too. However, Ko Kyaw Htin Aung said, the lands recently came under the state government’s management.

“Naung Yar Lake is a well-known place in our state. If those trees are cut and the small forest is destroyed, we are very concerned about the sustainability of the lake. It would further dry up the water sources for the lake, which are already dwindling,” he said.

DICA’s Kayah State office was established in Loikaw a couple of years ago. It wants to open an office downtown and has rejected two locations to the south and east of the town, according to U Tee Reh, the state minister for natural resources and environment.

He said DICA wants the office building located in an area with trees, adding that the cabinet had already approved the site.

The minister does not support cutting down the trees; however, he was outnumbered by his cabinet colleagues, he said.

He said, “There is a need for the government to [build the office], but there are also concerns about the environmental cost.”

Ko Kyaw Htin Aung said the local residents and environmental advocates raised their voices as soon as they heard that the chief minister planned to take action, and saw that the trees had been marked for cutting.

“The chief minister does not respect the locals’ concerns and made his decision, thus we are objecting to those actions,” he added.

When The Irrawaddy contacted Chief Minister L Phaung Sho, he refused to comment and referred the call to relevant officials.

DICA Director-General U Aung Naing Oo said his agency is preparing to build a new office on a government-allocated land plot and that as part of the site clearance, 11 teak and 10 other trees needed to be removed. He said his office officially reported this to the Forest Department, with which it was cooperating.

Ko Kyaw Htin Aung added that although he can understand that DICA doesn’t want to build its office south of the town, some 2-3 miles from downtown, they could use the second option: to build their office inside the state trading zone next to Loikaw Airport, which is just two furlongs from the government office and state parliament buildings.