Mi Kayin villagers in Hpa-an Township held a prayer service for the protection of their land and natural resources threatened by the proposed cement plant on March 29, 2016.
The villagers gathered at the base of Mi Kayin Mountain for the public prayer service after a recently revived proposal to develop a limestone quarry and cement factory near their village.
Mi Kayin community, a coalition of local villagers and Karen environmental civil society groups put out a statement on March 29, 2016 to voice their concerns over the cement plant proposal.
The Mi Kayin community statement quoted Ko Kyaw Hla, a Mi Kayin villager as saying; “We are concerned that the cement project will harm our local environment, health, sustainable livelihoods, and traditional way of life. We pray that the company will respect the voice of the local community, and that our natural resources will be protected for future generations.”
The first proposal to build a cement plant on Mi Kayin Mountain was put out by the Myanmar Cement and Mineral Production Co. Ltd and Myanmar Ji Dong Cement Co. Ltd in 2013 and 2014, but it was halted after local villagers strongly rejected it.
The proposal has now been revived again last week by Colonel Saw Chit Thu, a central advisory and management member of the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), a government-backed militia whom the Mi Kayin community claim has a well-known record for corrupt business deals.
On March 19, a pre-consultation meeting organized by Colonel Saw Chit Thu was held in Hpa-an and attended by over 70 people including local villagers, representatives from community based organizations, Karen State government official, Karen Literature and Culture Committee, religious leaders and Karen armed groups such as Karen National Union, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), and Karen Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC).
Speaking at the meeting Colonel Saw Chit Thu talked about his plans for the cement factory.
“To build this cement plant, I visited China and observed a cement plant in Yunnan province. Their technology is high. So we’ll use high technology not to affect the environment. If it is allowed, people will get jobs and Karen state will also be developed. This meeting is held to know the public opinion whether we should do it or not.”
According to information shared at the pre-consultation meeting, the proposed cement plant will be invested in by a Chinese company and managed by Colonel Saw Chit Thu’s Chit Lin Myaing Company. The estimated amount of money to be invested in this proposed plant is US $3 billion. The power for the plant will be generated from a coal power plant that is included in the proposal.
During the pre-consultation meeting, Mi Kayin villagers, monks and government officials urged that more time was needed for discussion with the local community. This was supported by the KNU representatives who urge for more time to be taken before proceeding.
Saw Kyaw Hla, a villager from Mi Kayin who attended the pre-consultation meeting said,
“We are very much worried about our mountain. [So far] No one has talked about how much accountability and responsibility will be taken and by who…if the locals don’t accept the plan, don’t misunderstand us.”
Karen community-based-organizations working on social and environmental issues have repeatedly called for all large-scale developments in Karen State to be halted while there is not any meaningful political settlement in the country.
In their press statement, the Mi Kayin community said that “large-scale projects take local peoples’ natural resources and make it difficult for them to practice their sustainable livelihoods. Among these projects in Karen State, the proposed cement project in Mi Karen Village will have some of the worst impacts on local people.”
According to sources from Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), Mi Kayin village is one of 11 proposed cement production sites in Hpa-an township, that many fear will cause serious damage to local livelihoods.
In the Mi Kayin community statement, Saw Tha Phoe from KESAN said that economic development for ethnic people should be based on the participation and desires of the local community, and must respect traditional culture and livelihoods. However, most development projects in Karen State have actually created more poverty and trouble for the local people.