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Kuki villagers call for halt to gold mining

Kuki Women leader Boinu says there has been a rise in drugs and domestic abuse in her community since gold mining began in Sagaing Division along the Chindwin River. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)

Ethnic villagers in Sagaing Division say that gold mining along the fourth largest river in Burma is ruining farmland and causing tension in the community, according to the Kuki Human Rights Organisation, which is calling for a halt to the expanding mine, as well as the Htamanthi Dam on the Chindwin River.

At a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday, the Kuki Human Rights Organisation said it had collected a petition with 3,000 signatures demanding that mining be stopped. The organisation apparently tried to present the petition to Sagaing Division Chief Minister Dr Myint Naing two days ago, but was refused a meeting as he said he was sick.

Two companies, Aung Chan Pyit and Pyi Lin Aung, are the registered owners of the gold mine site near Khamti, Htamanthi and Homalin villages, but other firms are operating illegally in the area, says ethnic Khaki villager Lon Bon Line from Manly village.

“All the villages in the area will be destroyed if this mine continues,” he said. “In three years there will be no farming land left. The mining brings no benefits to the local people from this area. It only brings new problems like flooding and landslides.”

Villagers say the mining began in 2008, but has expanded onto private land and impinges on farmland, with only a thin buffer of forest separating the mine from villages.

“There has never been one big consultation before the mine started, or a chance to consult with the community as a whole to fulfill what they want,” said Lon Bon Line. He said farmers who have had their land confiscated and subsequently mined want food compensation for their seized land and ruined crops. They also want their land returned.

A rise in crime and drug abuse has also surfaced in the region. Boinu, a spokesperson from a community human rights group called Kuki Women, told DVB on the sidelines of the press conference that an increase in domestic violence has been reported to her organisation.

“More and more men and husbands are using drugs like opium and beating their wives. Since the mining started, drugs have become available and are cheap, so more men are abusing them,” she said. Trying to respond to the increase in violence, the group has opened a safe house for abused women.

Kuki Women have also recorded cases of rape, allegedly by miners. Several female villagers say they are now too scared to go collecting food in the forest near the mine.

“The situation for women has become unsafe in the area because of the mines,” said Boinu. “With people now buying drugs, they [neglect] education and only put their boys through school. Many can’t afford to put their girls through school past grade seven.”

Both Kuki Women and Kuki Human Rights Organisation have held joint press conferences every year since 2014, but say the government is still not taking their concerns seriously. “We are tired of not being recognised as respected local networks, and being ignored by the government,” said Boinu.

Lon Bon Line agrees. “We just want the mine to stop before the effects are irreversible, and the land is totally ruined and cannot be farmed again,” he said.