Friday, July 17, 2009

Protest against cross-border road project

By Hseng Khio Fah

(Shanland) -Local populace along the Thai-Burma border last week staged a protest against a joint road project between a Thai firm and the Burma Army, according to local sources reports.

On 10 July, villagers in Ban Hintaek (Ban Therd Thai), the former stronghold of the late Mong Tai Army (MTA) leader Khun Sa, in Chiangrai’s Mae Fa Luang district, held a demonstration against the road project of Saraburi Coal Mining, a subsidiary of Ital-Thai, that had been granted concession by Burmese authorities to extract coal from Shan State East’s Mongkok sub-township, Monghsat township, 70km north of Chiangrai border towards the end of 2008.

The protestors argued that the road project could affect local village life, endanger the environment, promote drug trafficking and place local people’s lives at risk as the proposed area is operated by the anti-Naypyitaw Shan State Army (SSA) ‘South’ and the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Tensions between the Burma Army and the UWSA have been on the rise since April, when the latter was called upon to become border security forces under the former’s command.

“Without their permission, we won’t dare agree,” a participant in the protest who requests anonymity said.

At the same time, the SSA South’s Lt-Col Gawnzeun, Commander of the Kengtung Front based at Loi Gawwan, 10 miles east of the proposed border pass also told SHAN, “I don’t believe they (the Thai company) will go ahead with the road construction without informing us in advance.”

The deposit in Mongkok is anticipated to boast at least 150 million tons of raw coal, one third found to be Grade A. It would take 40 years long to deplete the fields even with 200 ten wheelers working each day to transport the diggings, according to an official from the company.

In exchange for the coal concession the Burma Army had insisted that the company construct the Mongkok-Maejok route to the diggings despite the existence of a shorter 100 km route inside Burma’s Tachilek to Thailand’s Maesai.

The road is proposed to be built across Maejok on the Burmese side of the border to Thailand’s Hmong Kaolang. It will be roughly 60 km inside Burma and at least 90 km inside Thailand until it connects with the national highway at Pasang, between Maesai and Chiangrai.

The proposed road would be able to transport 5,000 tons of coal per day, according to a security source.

On 21 May, the company held a public meeting with 200 villagers of Ban Hintaek to seek their approval.

“About 300 villagers will get jobs as drivers if the project is approved,” a local villager quoted an official from the lobby team as saying.

Since 1996, the Burma Army has made abortive attempts to dislodge the SSA from its border base, the last time in 2005.

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