The Hukawng Valley Tiger Reserve in Kachin State was declared by the Myanmar Government in 2001 with the support of the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society. In 2004 it was expanded to include the entire valley of 21,890 square kilometers (8,452 square miles), making it the largest tiger reserve in the world.
Burma’s ruling military granted a tycoon a concession to establish massive monocrop plantations in the reserve. It also opened the reserve to oil drilling, and profits from gold mining operations in the reserve.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has remained silent about the destruction in the reserve, still claiming that Hugawng can be a “cornerstone” of global tiger conservation. The Myanmar delegation to the Global Tiger Summit in November 2010 also pledged to double the tiger population in Hugawng over the next 12 years.
In 2006 Senior General Than Shwe, Burma’s ruling despot, granted the Rangoon-based Yuzana Company license to develop an “agricultural development zone” in the tiger reserve. Yuzana Company is one of Burma’s largest businesses and is chaired by U Htay Myint, a prominent real estate tycoon who is now a member of parliament from Tavoy, Tenasserim Division.
Today a 200,000 acre mono-crop plantation project is making a mockery of the reserve’s protected status as fleets of tractors, backhoes, and bulldozers rip up forests, raze bamboo groves and flatten existing small farms. Signboards that mark animal corridors and “no hunting zones” stand out starkly against a now barren landscape; they are all that is left of conservation efforts. Application of chemical fertilizers and herbicides together with the daily toil of over two thousand imported workers are transforming the area into huge tapioca, sugar cane, and jatropha plantations.
In 2006 KDNG documented 31 main gold mining areas within the valley with over 100 active mines throughout the tiger reserve. The ruling military junta grants concessions to gold mining companies, collecting handsome taxes and bribes in return for smooth operations. These operations are devastating for animal habitats and waterways as wastes and toxins are dumped without regulation. The influx of more people to the valley to work in mines also puts pressure on the environment. There are several negative social impacts to the gold mining as well. Large scale gold mining are still going on in the reserve until now.
Although the entire Hugawng Valley is supposedly a protected area, most of the reserve is open for oil drilling. The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise has established Block A in the reserve and Nobel Oil, a Russian firm, has had a contract to drill in the reserve since 2008.
Last Updated on Monday, 29 August 2011 14:28
Russian oil company Nobel Oil has inked a production sharing contract with Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) to jointly explore oil and gas in two onshore areas in Myanmar, state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported Sep. 9, 2008. Under the contract, signed by MOGE's managing director, U Myint Htay, and Nobel Oil President Grigory Gurevich, exploration will be carried out in the Hukaung and U-ru regions.
Yuzana Company was founded in 1994 by Htay Myint, today one of Burma’s leading real estate tycoons who is now a member of parliament from Tavoy, Tenasserim Division. The company is involved in hotels and tourism construction, transportation, fisheries, and agriculture (particularly palm oil and rubber plantations). The company also owns three hotels and the Yuzana Supermarket in Rangoon. In 2007 Yuzana was awarded the contract to reconstruct the Ledo Road between Myitkyina and Danai. Under the contract, Yuzana is authorized to collect tax on the road for 30 years.
Htay Myint is banned from travel to the European Union and is subject to sanctions by the United States due to his close connections with the ruling military, especially the junta’s #2, Vice Senior General Maung Aye.
Htay Myint is also chairman of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, president of the Construction Owners Association and president of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association.
Last Updated on Monday, 29 August 2011 14:30
Despite the powerful interests behind the Yuzana project, villagers have been bravely standing up to protect their farmlands and livelihoods. They have sent numerous formal appeals to the authorities, conducted prayer ceremonies, tried to reclaim their fields, refused to move, and defended their homes.
The failure of various government officials to reply or resolve the problem finally led the villagers to reach out to the United Nations and the National League for Democracy in Burma. In March 2010 representatives of three villages filed written requests to the International Labor Organization to investigate the actions of Yuzana. In July 2010, over 100 farmers opened a joint court case in Kachin State to get their lands back. Although the farmers are seeking a solution to their situation by following the law, they still face threats and intimidation by the authorities. The residents of Hugawng Valley are thus at the frontline of protecting not only their own lands and environment but also the rights of all of Burma’s farmers.
Last Updated on Sunday, 31 July 2011 15:33
Local people need to be involved in the management of the Hugawng Valley and decisions around its development if the reserve is to be sustainable. Conservation groups should re-evaluate their programs to ensure they are not simply “green washing” the military regime and should not stay silent about destruction in the reserve. Ultimately, there must be a genuinely democratic system in Burma to ensure transparency and accountability, the recognition of rights, environmental protection and social justice.