By SEAN GLEESON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Representatives of nearly two dozen villages in northern Tanintharyi Region have urged Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission investigate three companies involved in the Ban Chaung coal mine project, accusing the firms of culpability in land seizures and numerous other rights violations.
In a complaint filed this week, community leaders of 22 ethnic Kayin villages in the project’s vicinity urged the commission to investigate the activities of mining firms East Star Co. and Thai Asset Mining Co., along with Bangkok based Energy Earth PCL, which is underwriting the mine.
“The Thai companies are working for their own benefit, while ignoring the impacts of the project,” said a Wednesday statement by the Tarkapaw Youth Group, one of several local civil society groups opposing the Ban Chaung mine.
“It is time for the government to review the Ban Chaung coal mine and take action. We also call on the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to review the conduct of the Thai companies and take the necessary action to remedy any harms caused by this project.”
Located around 50 kilometres east of Thayetchaung, the Ban Chaung project has been strongly opposed by surrounding communities since a development permit was granted to local operator Myanmar Mayflower in March 2010.
Villagers near the mine have alleged a dramatic spike in respiratory and other health issues in their communities, the pollution of vital water sources and the seizure of vital agricultural land, in some cases without compensation.
While original permission for the project was granted by the former Ministry of Mines, the Ban Chaung mine is administered in party by the Karen National Union’s district office, which represents Kayin communities across a wide expanse of Tanintharyi region.
An October 2015 report by a coalition of Tanintharyi civil society groups claimed that numerous requests by villagers for the KNU office to block the project had gone unanswered.
Both the ministry and the KNU had also absolved themselves of responsibility for administering the mine in response to community complaints.
In 2014, the KNU office signed an agreement with East Star and Thai Asset Mining that limited expansion of the mine beyond the 60 acres then in the operation.
The following year, the Ministry of Mines revised the mine’s operating conditions, shrinking the project’s size to less than a third of the 2,100 acres permitted under Myanmar Mayflower’s previous license.
Civil society groups said later in 2015 that most of the 612 acres set aside for the mine’s expansion was prime agricultural land and vital for the livelihoods of surrounding villages.