The Shan State Minister of Mining and Forestry Sai Aik Pao on Tuesday ordered gold-mining companies in eastern Shan State’s Tachileik Township to halt operations and compensate local farmers, whose land and water sources have been destroyed and polluted by waste from mining.
Maj. Min Htun Aung, an assistant to the minister, said firms mining for gold in an area near Na Hai Long village were informed of the order on Tuesday.
The minister announced the suspension during a meeting with affected villagers, state lawmakers, state administration officials and company representatives, he said, adding that Sai Aik Pao, who also heads the Shan Nationalities Development Party, visited the area on Wednesday.
“The minister is at the Na Hai Long area now to observe how much of the land has been destroyed, and he has instructed the local administrators to tackle the issue seriously,” Min Htun Aung said, adding that authorities had been warning the firms to halt operations for several months.
According to local Shan farmers, 10 ten different companies have been carrying out gold mining in the Loi Kham hills since 2007. They said the operations of four companies—Shwe Taung, Sai Titt, Sai Sidepyoyae and Loi Kham Long companies—had affected their farms and villages.
The firms pump water from Namkham stream and blast it at the hill sides during their mining operations, washing down huge amounts of waste and polluted water on to farmland and into streams.
Ethnic Shan villagers from Na Hai Long, Weng Manaw and Ganna villages in Talay sub-township have said that more than 300 acres of farmland can no longer be cultivated as they are covered in mining waste.
Some 90 households had lost much of their income because their farms had been damaged, they said, adding that streams used for drinking water, fishing and irrigation have been polluted.
In July, the farmers, with the help of the Shan Farmers’ Network, launched a complaint with Shan State authorities, demanding an end to mining operations, financial compensation from the firms and restoration of their farmlands.
Nang Lar, a Na Hai Long villager who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the minister had listened to the communities’ concerns and instructed company representatives to end mining operations and compensate affected farmers.
“The minister told us that the police would take action against them” if mining is not halted, she said, adding, however, that it remains to be seen whether the firms would follow the order as they had repeatedly ignored government warnings to do so in recent months.
“I visited the areas on Monday and I saw they [the companies] were still working in those mines,” Nang Lar said.
The Shan Herald Agency for News reported on Wednesday that the mining firms had been ordered to pay about US$670 in compensation to villagers for every acre of completely destroyed farmland. The report said Tachileik Township administration officials would measure how much land each farmer had lost.
Minister Sai Aik Pao could not be reached for comment.