Villagers from Ka Htaung Li village who protested against a gold mining operation that polluted their water sources alleged that they were harassed, punished and warned not to do it again by a Burma Army officer.
Villagers alleged that Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike, the battalion commander of Infantry Battalion 62 under Tactical Command 1 of Military Operation Command 19 based at Htee Hta in Dawei Township gave permission to businessmen to run a gold mine operators that caused the pollution problems.
Saw Tin Oo, a villager said that Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike summoned the protesters from Ka Htaung Li on April 18.
Saw Tin Oo spoke to Karen News about the incident.
“There were about 30 people including a pastor from the village, the village administration chief and schoolteachers who were summoned to report to the military base. When they arrived to the camp, the army officer asked them, ‘who do you think you are? Why do you disturb the mining?’ the officer forced the villagers to stand still from 11am to 1pm.”
Saw Tin Oo said that the army officer told the villagers to allow the mining operation to continue until June.
Three local businessmen have operated the gold mining at Maw Ma Htoo stream since March this year. Villagers said that the mining had caused changes to the waterways and polluted the stream water that the villagers depend on for their water sources.
Villagers said that the water pollution was the reason that they had protested against the gold mining.
According to village sources, on April 15, the three businessmen, village administration chief and villagers held a meeting to discuss the issue at the village nursery school. Villagers said that all parties agreed and signed on a paper that the gold mining would stop. However, the army officer became angry when the businessmen informed him about the agreement with the villagers.
U Tin Thein, the general administration secretary of the Tanitharyi Regional Government spoke to Karen News about the issue.
“Our Regional Government has not granted permission to anyone for gold mining. If villagers are facing problems like this, they can send their complaints to us. We will go down and help solve the problem. They will need to state the specific details of their identity and addresses [in the complaint letter] in order for us to contact them back. Actually, the army cannot grant permission for mining.”
Naw Pi Thalaw, a resident from Dawei said that an understanding at the local level sealed the mining deal.
“It may be true that army can’t give permission for gold mining. But there are understandings between businessmen and the local army. This has become a concern for villagers that bigger company or investors can come into our areas to carry out larger projects. Even this small scale project has caused much destructions and bigger scale projects will be worse.”
Naw Pi Thalaw also said that the manner of the officers toward the villagers was disrespectful.
“The army should not treat villagers this way by letting them stand for two hours.”
The gold mining at Maw Ma Htoo stream was initially granted by both the local Karen National Union office and by the Burma Army located in the area. The mining operation started in March and will now resume after it was suspended when local villagers protested about it.