Thai and Burmese companies have begun exploratory digging in preparation to jointly operate a coal mine in the Mong Kok area of eastern Shan State’s Mong Hsat Township.
Sahakol Equipment, a Thai mining contractor, and Golden Lake Co., Ltd, of Burma, signed a memorandum of understanding in July to run the mine together. Heavy equipment has already been sent to the mining site, locals said.
“Seven people came into our area… with tractors and carrier vehicles. They tried to test coal deposits on site with the machines. I think they are going to start their coal mining project,” Long Sai, who lives in the Mong Kok area, told SHAN this week.
The Thai and Burmese governments began discussing coal extraction in Mong Kok in 2007, with the first corporate agreements signed in 2010, yet much of the coal is expected to be exported to China’s Yunnan Province.
The area in question covers around 3,200 acres. Locals in Mong Kok and Thai communities downstream from the Mong Kok stream opposed the venture on the grounds that it involves severe environmental and land degradation, leading the project to be put on pause.
Lon Sai said that the rice paddies from eight villages stand to be damaged irreparably.
Representatives from the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization fear that area locals will lose their land and there will be widespread pollution if the project moves forward.
“There will be many negative impacts if they carry out coal extraction in Mong Kok. A lot of farmland will be seized. It will also damage the forests. Everything will be damaged,” Sai Khur Hseng, who works with Shan Sapawa, told SHAN.
He added that the companies changed their original plan, which was to export the coal to China through Thailand, after local Thai opposition. Now, it is set to be sent to Yunnan through Mong Yawng in eastern Shan State.
Villagers who live near the coal processing plant will be exposed to dangerous mining pollution in the air as well, the Shan Human Rights Foundation’s Sai Hor Hseng said.
“Local people will suffer respiration problems,” he explained.
Mong Kok locals sent letters to respective government departments in Burma in 2017 outlining their opposition to the coal mining project in their area.