Chin political parties and residents are calling for transparency over a Chinese-backed project, with some warning that the project could lead to a repeat of the unrest seen at the Letpadaung copper mine.
Geological studies of the Mwe Taung Phar Taung area – on the border of Chin State’s Tiddim township and Sagaing Region’s Kale township – show three deposits of mixed nickel and iron capable of providing nearly 17,000 tonnes of pure nickel annually.
A survey carried out by Chin political parties, civil societies and MPsfrom September 2 to 9, however, shows that many residents in the area are concerned about the potential impact on their businesses and the environment.
“There are at least 14 villages that rely on the mountain,” said U Zo Zam, chairman of the Chin National Party and a Chin State Hluttaw representative for Tiddim, said at a press conference in Yangon on September 16. “Locals are concerned for their livelihoods because they don’t know the details about the project. It’s necessary to implement the project transparently.”
The Chin political parties have issued a joint statement listing seven demands concerning the project, including enacting a law on profit allocation from natural resources, improved environmental protections and more dialogue with locals, since many don’t know exactly what’s happening with the project.
“We are concerned our present situation will be destroyed by the project,” said U Thang Pi, who lives in Tiddim township.
According to the survey, one point of concern is that both companies linked to the project are Chinese. Financial backing – nearly US$500 million – is said to be coming from North Mining Investment, while Kenbo – active in Myanmar’s mining sector under the military government – is implementing the project. The poll showed residents feel development in the area should only involve companies from democratic countries. They perceive that Chinese companies only focus on their own interests and neglect those of residents, the poll found.
Neither company is connected to the controversial China-backed copper mine at Monywa in Sagaing Region, which has been the subject of at times violent protests, but residents say they are concerned that they will face similar land confiscations and evictions at Mwe Taung Phar Taung. They warned that this could lead to potential unrest.
“We are now worried because we heard that the project is financed by the same company that has invested in the Letpadaung project,” said U Lian Thwung from the Chin Mountain Resources Watch Group. “Villagers [at Letpadaung] are in trouble because of them. There are a lot of land disputes there. There can be no faith in Chinese companies whatsoever.”
At a meeting on September 7 between four Chin political parties and the Chin State government, state officials said those wanting to know more about the Mwe Taung Phar Taung project would need to get the details from the central government, U Zo Zam said.
“The state government said there is no agreement between the Union government and North Mining Investment company for the project. We will contact the relevant governments, companies and embassies to inform them of the facts we have now. Then we will try to discuss [the project] in a meeting with union officials. We will also ask some advice from international groups,” U Zo Zam said.
However, state-run newspaper Myanmar Ahlin reported on March 30 that North Mining Investment had taken over the project because another Chinese company, Kan Bau, had been given permission but failed to implement the project. The paper also said that the Chin State government would get US$500,000, or 2 percent of the profits, each year if the project is successful.
Chin National Party general secretary Salai Ceu Bilc Thang said if the project goes ahead the state should get significantly more profit.
“The Union government should get at least 51pc of the profit,” he said. “And the Chin State government should get at least 20pc.”
Neither of the investors could be reached for comment and the Chinese embassy in Yangon did not respond to a request for comment. – Translated by Thiri Min Htun