Rampant gold mining is on with government sanction at the halt of the mega dam construction site in Irrawaddy-Myitsone in Burma’s Northern Kachin State, said a local watchdog group.
While the government is known to take action against traditional gold panners but it allows large-scale gold mining at the halt dam site, which is the largest of seven planned dams at Myitsone source by Chinese state-owned China Power Investment Corporation as of October, said Kachin Development Networking Group in its statement released on November 15.
On October 27, eleven villagers were beaten up and jailed for panning for gold at the dam site after local authorities warned that only the Ministry of Mining’s joint venture would be allowed to excavate gold in the area, KNDG said.
Panning for gold has been the main source of income for local villagers because their farms were seized and they were forcibly relocated last year to the nearby Aung Mye Tar, the government’s place of relocation.
On October 5, an order from Nyein Htun Kyaw, Myitkyina Administrative Office Chief, stated “Only personnel from the government-led joint venture would be allowed to carry out gold mining in Myitsone. All residents and business owners in the Myitsone area, including small-scale gold panners, have to leave the specified project area no later than on October 10”.
Ms. Ah Nan of the KDNG said, “The government claims it will protect the Irrawaddy but at the same time it is destroying the Myitsone by allowing massive gold mining operations”.
Despite the Myanmar Mining Enterprise No. 2 announcement by the government-owned MRTV on October 25 - “The expansion of mechanized gold mining in Myitsone, and subsequent arrests of traditional gold panners directly contradicts recent government policy forbidding large-scale gold mining on the rivers of Burma in order to protect the environment”.
Local people have appealed to the Kachin State Minisiter to release gold panners but received no response, according to the Kachin watchdog group.
KDNG warned that rampant gold mining by using toxic elements like mercury and cyanide has been ravaging lands and rivers across Kachin State for several years, and the new government’s gold mining policy will destroy the beauty of the confluence and directly pollute the Irrawaddy ecosystem, impacting communities living downstream.