A coalition of Shan community based organizations has said a moratorium on resource extraction is urgently needed until there is nationwide peace and a discussion on the control and management of the country’s natural resources, much of which are in ethnic areas.
The Shan CBOs referred to an anti-mining protest held on 5th September by 3,000 villagers in the town of Namkham, which lies near the border of China in northern Shan State, as one example of how ethnic communities felt they were being negatively affected by the resource extraction industry.
The villagers were protesting against a silica mining operations, which they say have contaminated the water supplies of nine villages in the area and destroyed 100 acres of farmland because of pollution. Villagers also said that large trucks were passing through residential areas day and night, transporting the minerals to the nearby China border causing several fatal accidents.
“The anti-mining protest… highlights the lack of protection against damaging mining, and the urgent need for a moratorium on resource extraction in ethnic areas until there is genuine political reform and peace in Burma,” The Shan community groups said in a statement.
The protest followed a petition signed by 5,900 villagers in Namkham in August 2013, which called for the mining operation to stop. Villagers said that the Shan State Mining Minister, Sai Aik Pao, came in person to inspect the damage caused by the mining operations and ordered it be stopped, but that the mining operation continued.
Muay Noom Hom, a spokesperson for the Shan CBOs, said that the government’s decision to engage in resource extraction before a peace settlement with ethnic armed groups was irresponsible.
“Naypyidaw is selling off all our valuable resources even before getting to the negotiating table. By the time a settlement is reached, there will be nothing left,” she said.
The Namkham region is currently an active conflict zone between government forces and ethnic armed groups, including Shan and Kachin forces. The Shan CBOs accuse the Burma government of using pro-government militias as security for the silica mining operation, adding to militarization in the area.
“Mining companies in this area with links to [pro-government] militia include Myanmar Mya Oo, Ngwe Kabar Kyaw and Ban Thissa, which is connected to the Pansay militia, led by a government MP, U Kyaw Myint. The first company to carry out mining in the area was GSM, linked to former Minister U Aung Thaung,” the Shan CBOs said.