Monday, July 25, 2011

Local people protest coal mining in eastern Shan State

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Monday, 25 July 2011 12:16 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Environment groups and local villagers in Burma and Thailand launched a protest against the Mong Koke coal-mining project in eastern Shan State last week.

Anti-coal mine campaign coordinator
Montree Chantawong Terra.
The project is a joint operation by the Dawei deep sea port project developer, the
Italian-Thai Company, ITD, and Thailand’s Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand’ (EGAT).

“This Mong Koke coal mining project will cause a greenhouse effect in the region, and it will affect the local environment. It will create pollution and destroy the ecological system of the Chiang Rai River. We don’t want this Mong Koke coal mining project,” said Suphakit Nuntavorakarn, an environmental activist.

EGAT expects the plant to generate 370 MW of power and 15,000 MW electricity power over the next 20 years.

The project is located in Burma 40 kms north of Thailand’s Chiang Rai border. EGAT and the Burmese government signed an agreement to produce 1.5 million tons of coal annually for 10 years and to build a 405 MW thermal power station of which 369 MW will be sold to Thailand.

Thai power demand is 23,900 MW (150,000 million KWh) and it is expected to increase to 54,000 MW in the next 20 years. About 45 per cent is produced by coal-fired power stations. The coal to be used in the power units will be produced by the Mae Mao coalmine and imported coal.

The agreement with the Burmese government must be renewed every five years; the total project tenure is 25 years. Burma will begin selling energy to Thailand in early 2016, according to officials.

About 20 villages south of Mogok were forcibly relocated in March. The military regime ordered the villagers to sell their farmland at a set price of 20,000 kyat (US$ 25) per acre to the company. Local residents said the authorities violated the human rights of local villagers.

The protesters said the project would include about 200 trucks that will transport coal daily through the area causing noise and coal dust pollution.

The report compiled by the Mong Koke activist group said Burmese military units persecuted and tortured local villagers in 2007 when it accused them of giving support to the Shan State Army – South (SSA-S).

SSA-S and government troops frequently clash in the Mong Koke area and Burmese troops have deployed extra security to protect the project. The report said that about 1,000 Shan, Akha and Lahu villagers fled to Thailand in fear of persecution.

Thai social groups have sent letters and expressed their opposition to the project to the Thai Human Right Commission, the Thai Lawyers Council and the Chiang Rai authorities since 2009.

Residents in northern Thailand also worry that pollution will affect the Koke River. The Koke River is a main waterway for people in northern Thailand and is a popular tourist attraction. The power station is projected to use water from the Koke River and wastewater from the power station will be put into the river again. The report said the project would emit many harmful chemicals and destroy wildlife and plants in the region. Coal mining and coal burning emits many poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, chromium and cadmium, the report said.

Meanwhile, a coal-mining project in Pinlaung Township in Burma has created dangerous water and air pollution, according to local residents. About 20,000 people from Tikyit and Se Gaung villages are suffering from skin diseases caused by the pollution, according to “Poisoned Cloud,” a report prepared by Thai-based Pa-O Youth Organization released in January.

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