Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gold and antimony in KNU areas attract investors

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 19:05 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima)– Gold and antimony mining permits are being sought by companies interested in exploring and operating mines in Karen National Union (KNU) controlled areas.

The KNU operates seven brigades, and gold can be extracted in areas controlled by Brigade No. 2, 3, 5. Antimony can be extracted in areas controlled by Brigade No. 1, 4, 6.

Currently, antimony is being extracted in Dupalaya District controlled by Brigade No. 6. The area controlled by KNU brigade No. 7 also has potential to produce iron and antimony, officials said.

Companies operating mines in KNU areas pay taxes to the KNU Mining Department. Some companies are now carrying out initial explorations.

Two women stand in front of a section of the bank of the Baw Bpaw Loh River that has been excavated as part of a private gold mining operation in Ma Lay Ler village tract, Dweh Loh Township, in Karen State. Photo: KHRG

“Some companies use intermediaries to negotiate. Other companies use their connections in border areas. They talk about how they will divide the profits,” a senior KNU officer told Mizzima. He declined to give the companies names.

KNU Vice Chairman David Thackerbaw told Mizzima, “When the government held peace talk with us, some businessmen acted as intermediaries. Some intermediaries think that they will gain an advantage from both sides.”

The Dawei Development Project including the US$ 58 billion Dawei deep-sea port project is in the area of KNU Brigade No. 4.

At least eight companies including the Thuwunna Company and Lin Phone Pyi Company now operate antimony mines in Kyainseikkyi and Kawkareik townships in areas controlled by KNU Brigade No. 6, residents told Mizzima.

Saw Than Kyaw Oo, the former chairman of the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP) who resigned to form a new party, the Kayin Democratic Party (KDP), has operated antimony mines in Hlaingbwe Township in the area of KNU Brigade No. 7.

“The antimony produced by us is sold inside the country,” he told Mizzima. “The antimony is sent to me, and then I send it to Rangoon. Mostly, we run the mines in Kyainseikkyi under an agreement with the KNU.”

Meanwhile, KNU joint General-Secretary Major Saw Hla Ngwe said that the central government’s decision on affairs regarding the mines in the KNU areas would be clarified only after peace talks with the central government. He said the KNU wants a genuine cease-fire based on political solutions.

“The issue [regarding the mines] and the delay to establish a cease-fire are not related. We have not thought about development work [businesses]. To get a genuine cease-fire, we need to talk about politics,” he said.

On Wednesday, central government representatives and KNU representatives held preliminary peace talks on the Thai-Burmese border to discuss a cease-fire.
The government delegation was led by Aung Min. General Mutu Saypo, Pado Rtoe and Pado David Htaw led the KNU delegation. In January, the two sides will hold official peace talks in Hpaan in Karen State.

According to a report by Burma’s Environmental Working Group in June: The Burmese government maintains that “all naturally occurring minerals found either on or under the soil of any land on the continental shelf are deemed to be owned by the state.” The mining sector is directed by the Myanmar Ministry of Mines whose various branches investigate potential mineral deposits and grant mining concessions to close partners including regional commanders, the Burmese private sector, and some cease-fire groups. Since 1988, when the economy was opened up to foreign investment, the Ministry of Mines began to encourage local and foreign investment in the mining industry.

Very little information on the hundreds of official and unofficial mining concessions given by Burma’s Ministry of Mines to local and foreign investors (mostly Chinese enterprises) in the past 20 years is available to the public. Many of the mining companies have friendly ties to non-state armed groups all across the nation.

One reason that the extent of China’s stake in Burma’s mining sector is incredibly complicated to gauge is that a sizeable portion of mining operations in the country are smaller in scale, remote, and difficult to access.

Due to the lack of laws and regulations protecting the environment against the impacts of mining, mining poses a grave threat to the mountainous regions in the north and delicate coastal areas where tin is collected. Up until about 20 years ago, mining operations were relatively small in scale and cause minimal impacts to the environment.

Traditional methods of mining for gold, gems, and other valuable minerals rely mostly on shovels, picks, pans and screen. For the past two decades, there has been a shift towards large- scale and much more environmentally destructive techniques.

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