We Used to Fear Bullets, Now We Fear Bulldozers: Dirty coal mining by military cronies & Thai companies Ban Chaung, Dawei District, Myanmar
By Tarkapaw Youth Group, Dawei Development Association (DDA), and the Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (Trip Net), October 2015
This report was researched and written collaboratively by Dawei Civil Society Organizations and documents the environmental and social impacts of the Ban Chaung coal mining project in Dawei District of Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region. Based on desk research, interviews with villagers, and direct engagement with companies and government, it exposes how the project was pushed ahead despite clear opposition from the local community. It documents the serious harm that has already been done to villagers’ health, livelihoods, security, and way of life, and the devastating contamination of local rivers and streams.
It calls for the suspension of Mayﬂower Mining Company’s permit and operations at Ban Chaung until this harm is remedied and the project is effectively evaluated, monitored, and regulated in compliance with Myanmar law and international best practice. It advocates that local villagers should be given the opportunity to take ownership of their own path to development.
Formerly mired in conﬂict, resource-rich Tanintharyi Region is now opened up to foreign investment, and is threatened by a ﬂ ood of dirty industrial projects including the massive Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and seven coal-ﬁred power plants. Among these dirty projects is a coal mine in the Ban Chaung area of Dawei District. The project is located in a sensitive recent conﬂict zone, where administration and territory is contested between the Myanmar government and the ethnic armed resistance organization, the Karen National Union (KNU).
Taking advantage of contested administration and weak governance in this area, Myanmar crony company Mayﬂower Mining used its high-level connections to begin coal mining operations without proper safeguards to protect human rights and the environment. The project was pushed ahead without an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and without the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local villagers. Mayﬂower Mining Company has a partnership with two companies from Thailand – East Star Company and Thai Asset Mining Company – that are operating on the ground in Ban Chaung. Thai Asset has nearly completed building a road to transport Ban Chaung coal to the Theyet Chaung on the Tanintharyi coast, but its progress has been stalled due to a protest blockade by villagers. Meanwhile, East Star has already been operating a 60-acre open-pit mine at Khon Chaung Gyi village for more than three years, transporting nearly 500 tons of coal daily during the dry season according to local villagers. East Star has entered into a Joint Operating Agreement with Energy Earth Company, which will ﬁnance its mining operations and sell the coal on the market. Mayﬂower and its Thai partners plan to expand operations to mine for coal on at least 2,100 acres, threatening to take almost all of the local community’s agricultural land.
Should it be allowed to expand, Ban Chaung coal mining would severely damage the health and livelihoods of approximately 16,000 villagers in the area, most of whom belong to the Karen ethnic group, and rely on ﬁshing and farming. Indeed, many villagers are already suffering from increased pollution of air and water resources and land conﬁscations, of once productive agricultural land. East Star Company has dumped mining waste directly diseases. Uncontrolled coal ﬁres, spontaneously combusting in waste and storage piles, have caused breathing problems in the community. An inﬂux of outsiders along with the presence of the Myanmar military means local people no longer feel safe in their own villages. The project threatens the entire way of life of the indigenous Karen people of Ban Chaung, who have had their land passed down to them for generations.
Although local people are overwhelmingly opposed to coal mining in their area, they were never given the chance to voice their concerns; only learning about the project once the bulldozers started digging on their land. Now, Ban Chaung villagers have joined together to challenge irresponsible coal mining in their area, and to call for alternative, democratic, and inclusive development in Tanintharyi Region.