Mon State — The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) says it wants China to negotiate with it on a proposed railway that would run through territory the ethnic armed group claims to control in northern Shan State, and not only with the Union government.
“We wanted China to negotiate with us on this project. We want some recognition from the Chinese side through negotiations on building this project in areas we control,” said TNLA Brigadier General Tar Phone Kyaw.
China and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding in October to study the feasibility of a high-speed railway linking Mandalay to the Chinese border at Muse as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The line would run 431 km and pass through conflict zones in Shan State, including territory claimed by the TNLA. A group is not happy that China has only discussed the project with the Union government.
“Our Ta’ang people are the original owners of this land. To launch such a huge project in our area, China needs to talk with us,” Brig. Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw said.
He said China was taking advantage of a four-month ceasefire the Myanmar military declared in northern and eastern Myanmar in late December to start on the study and that the TNLA has been asked to provide the workers with protection.
“We have been told by China only to take care of security for their engineers and workers building the project. For our side, we think China pays us very little attention,” he added.
The TNLA says it has raised its concerns over the project with China’s special envoy for Asia affairs, Sun Guoxiang, but the envoy showed little interest.
Parts of the proposed route see sporadic fighting between the Myanmar military and local ethnic armed groups, and Brig. Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw suggested that China hold off on the project until the disputes are settled. He said the TNLA was also concerned that local authorities may not compensate people adequately for land appropriated to build the line.
“There is no transparency. Both the central and regional government administrations are very corrupt. We are worried that our people will not get the full benefits they deserve from the project,” he said.
The TNLA is worried of a repeat of the time China built a gas pipeline through northern Shan State several ears ago, when all that most locals got it return for their land were a few schools.
“Very few people got compensation.” Brig. Gen. Tar Phone Kyaw said.
The general accused local officials of pocketing most of the money China gave the government to compensate locals.
“For example, China may have given 10 million kyats for one acre of land. But the local authority gave 50,000 to 100,000 kyats only,” he said.
China has brokered several meetings between the Myanmar military and government and armed groups based along its border with country. It has repeatedly urged the armed groups to refrain from fighting along the border, where it has several BRI projects in the works.