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A group of local activists and politicians in Shan state’s Kengtung township are preparing a petition against a Thai-owned coal mining project, which they say will cause widespread social and environmental problems.
The project will involve the construction of a coal-fired power plant and see the forceful relocation of at least two villages along with the confiscation of over 500 acres of farmland.
A local politician told DVB that a public meeting, held on 24 October with people from eight villages in the Monglet village-tract, showed that the vast majority of locals opposed the project.
“None of the villagers wish to be relocated, and even if they do, they wouldn’t know where to go so all of them are opposed to the project,” said Sai Win Myint, the National League for Democracy’s Shan state Central Executive Committee member.
“We are now collecting signatures from all residents over 18 years old in the villages.”
He said the petition will be submitted to the township authorities and if they refuse to help them, they will turn to the Shan state government and the union parliament in Naypyidaw.
The public meeting was attended by over 300 people including Monglet residents, representatives from political parties including the NLD, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, as well as local Shan, Lahu and Wa parties, as well as police officers and military officials.
The Shan Nationalities and Development Party, who also attended the meeting, say they raised concerns about environmental damage caused by the project as early as two years ago, but no action has been taken.
The villagers added that the Kengtung district authorities approached them on 20 October to sign an agreement for the project to go ahead. But they refused because the officials failed to give answers to questions about the relocation process, compensation and new job opportunities.
The project will see the relocation of Wantaung and Wankyun villages [in Monglet village-tract] and also cover Kengtung town, which is located in a valley surrounded by mountains, with smog, according to a local elder.
Burma, which is emerging from nearly five decades of military rule, is rich in gems, industrial minerals, oil, and offshore natural gas reserves estimated at 10 trillion cubic feet. But most of the country’s natural resources are found in its volatile ethnic minority regions, including Shan and Kachin states, where violence continues to flare near areas slated for large-scale development projects.
Campaigners warn that an influx of foreign investment could exacerbate local grievances, unless “major shortcomings” in Burma’s legal and regulatory framework, which allow the government to arbitrarily seize land from farmers, are addressed.