By Chan Mya Htwe
Shan, Myanmar, March 8, 2016
The Shan State Farmers’ Network (SSFN) will ask the incoming National League for Democracy government to suspend companies’ gold mining operations?strong in eastern Shan State, which the organisation says have polluted local villagers’ water resources.
A decade of mining in the Loi Kham hills has left around 300 acres of fields unusable, according to a joint press release from the SSFN and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) published on March 3.
The two groups said they “urge the incoming NLD government to implement federal reform to end Nay Pyi Taw’s unilateral power to grant mining concessions in ethnic areas”.
Farmer Ma Nan Lar from Na Hai Long village in Tachileik township has lost 17 acres of land to gold mining. The silt from companies’ mining operations covers the creeks that local farms use for agriculture, the farmer said. Spoiled water sources have made farming impossible, and around two-thirds of farmers have left to find work in Tachileik town or across the border in Thailand, Ma Nan Lar said.
Local farmers who have lost land are requesting that the gold mining be suspended, creeks repaired and farmland returned to its original state, said the SSFN and local farmers. The farmers will also seek compensation from the respective companies whose operations have damaged land.
Companies operating in the area have made periodic compensation payments. On February 28, trucks belonging to three companies – Sai Saik Pyo Ye, Shwe Taung and Loi Kham Long – transported some 30 villagers to Tachileik town, according to the joint press release. There the villagers received compensation for 7 acres of land at rate of 12,000 baht (K407,928) per acre, according to Ma Nan Hla, an SSFN member. The joint release said the companies promised up to 3 million baht (K101 million) for the entire village.
There was no agreement between the companies and the other villagers or ward administrators, the press release said. Nan Hai Long locals said the companies had not told ward administrators about the compensation.
In July 2014, Shan State Minister for Mining and Forestry Sai Aik Pao ordered gold-mining companies in that area to halt operations and compensate local farmers, as toxic waste from the mines was destroying farmlands and harming villagers’ health.
But after paying compensation to the farmers, the firms resumed operations in early 2015, according to Ma Nan Lar.
Figures from local farmers and government officials for that round of compensation differ. Sai Aik Pao said the mining companies’ agreement with the farmers was for K6.6 million per acre and total compensation paid was K144 million.
A local farmer, however, gave higher estimates for the 2014 compensation. The companies paid no compensation in 2015, the farmer added.
Since the firms’ restarted operations in 2015 gold mining in Loi Kham has expanded, and another company – Shan Shweli – has recently started excavating, according to the joint press release.
The release also reported that the army guards the mines, which Ma Nan Lar confirmed.
Lone Sam, a 54-year old Nan Hai Long local, was shot in October 2015 after climbing a hill to view the mining operations, the release said. Three soldiers admitted shooting Lone Sam at Tachileik town court on January 14, but said that the villagers attacked first, the SSFN’s Ma Nan Hla said.
There has been no date set for a further hearing, according to the press release.