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Thousands gathered in Namhkam, Shan State, on Friday morning to protest against commercial mining operations.
The locals said that large-scale silica mining projects have resulted in permanent damage to streams and farmlands, ultimately ruining the livelihoods of thousands of people in the township.
Demonstrators convened at the Nam Seere bridge at around 8am, then marched to downtown Namhkam shouting slogans.
Concomitant to the rally, seven local politicians submitted a formal complaint listing the demands of the local community to the township authorities. Sai Ye Tun, director of the Namhkam Township Farmers Group, spoke to DVB from the rally site.
“There are more than 2,000 farmers. here in Namhkam. We have four demands, including compensation for farmers’ losses,” he said.
The farmers’ demands include: an immediate moratorium on all mining operations in the area; repair of several streams and canals; full compensation for damaged farmlands; and restoration of land so that farming can resume.
Locals said that metal byproducts from mines operated by the Ngwe Kabar Kyaw company has contaminated streams and ruined farmlands. Moreover, they said, in some areas the waste has built up and affected water flows, resulting in a drought.
The damages are said to have affected at least seven villages so far: Ho Na, Kaung Paing, Mann Kham, Mann Naung, Pan Hto Lein, Se Hai and Waik Ho Sai.
Two of Shan State’s leading political parties, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), have both suggested that the villagers ask them directly for assistance. As per the advice of local politicians, the villagers sought and were granted permission for Friday’s demonstration.
“The villagers are upset because authorities haven’t done anything about the destruction that has occurred as a result of these mines. That’s why they are protesting. Both our White Tiger Party (SNDP) and the Tiger Head Party (SNLD) have vowed to help them. We told them they need to go about this in accordance with the law,” said Sai Htun Hlaing, secretary of the SNDP.
Permission was granted for 300 people to rally, but the actual turnout was estimated around 2,000. No arrests were reported.
Mining projects began in Namhkam in 2013, the villagers said, when six companies entered the area and began extracting silica. Locals said that they have consistently opposed the projects because of early signs of pollution. Despite repeated pleas with local authorities, no effective action has yet been taken.
Silica mining is common in several parts of Burma, typically in the form of large stone extraction. The extraction process, of which local people are largely unaware have difficulty describing, sometimes employs chemicals and results in byproducts that can lead to severe health problems like silicosis.