Villagers in Ye Township hold press conference to condemn Excellent Fortune Development Group Company’s proposed stone mining project

March 11, 2019

HURFOM: In their latest show of opposition to Excellent Fortune Development Group Company Ltd.’s (EFD) planned stone mining project near Dani Thakyar and Magyi villages, Ye Township, Mon State, villagers held a press conference at the Shwe San Daw Pagoda in Ye on February 26th 2019 to spotlight how the project will put the livelihoods of many in the area at risk.

The project, which is to be undertaken by Shwe Aykarit Mining Company Ltd., a subsidiary of EFD, has been met with protest since 2017 when villagers sent a petition letter to Daw Tin Ei, the Speaker of the Mon State Parliament, after learning that EFD was planning to buy land near Mount Bleh Patoi, located between the two villages.

According to Ko Jimmy, a representative from the Human Rights and Justice Initiative (HRJI), in January 2019 petitions protesting the project were again submitted by villagers to the Chief Minister of Mon State, the Union government, and the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs.

Villagers already voiced their opposition to this project when it was first announced…But I think the company tried to bribe the three senior monks who were previously active in the opposition to the project. Later, those monks said the company would provide electricity, and build roads, and urged villagers to sign consent forms so the project could begin. Villagers oppose the project, but they are reluctant to speak out [against the monks]. Some villagers signed the consent forms against their will,” said U Chit Tin, a Magyi resident.

People in these villages have great respect for the monks. That’s why some villagers signed the consent forms even though they didn’t want to. Religious influence shouldn’t be used to persuade people. The monks should work to create peace. Even though we have laws [to protect people’s lands], locals here will suffer,” said HRJI’s Ko Jimmy.

The three monks in question are venerable Monk Battanda U Pin Nyar from Kalog village, venerable Monk Battanda U Za Na Ka from Toe Tat village, and the Abbot of the Magyi Monastery, venerable Monk Ashin Thiri. According to villagers, these three monks sought to exploit the limited knowledge that many people had with respect to the stone mining project, urging them to sign the consent forms.

I think the company bribed these monks. If the monks only care about bribes and don’t think about the damage this project will to do to the people, we will oppose the monks. The Mon State government also acts like they see and hear nothing, so I think they were also bribed by the company,” said U Chit Tin.

U Chit Tin said the company signed an agreement with the three senior monks on August 29th 2018. In the agreement, it was stipulated that the company will provide Magyi village with a 20-KVA power generator, electric cables, and utility poles, and build a kindergarten and crematorium for the village. As part of the agreement, the company also committed to organize a township-level charity to be managed by the above-mentioned monks from Kalog and Magyi villages.

Similarly, EFD has promised to provide Dani Thakyar village with a 20-KVA power generator, electric cables, and utility poles, and to help complete construction of the village monastery and build a crematorium, according to U Shel, a resident of Dani Thakyar.

The site of the proposed project, Mount Bleh Patoi, is home to the many rubber and betel nut plantations that provide area residents with their only source of income.

If we lose the mountain, the winds will become too strong. We’ll also suffer from floods. Even now, local villagers must struggle for their livelihood. If the mining project proceeds, their lives will be much more difficult. This is why I oppose the project,” said Mi Kon Baloy, a local activist working with the Magyi Youth Group.

The reason I oppose the project is that the company didn’t follow the law. They didn’t get consent from local villagers, but they’ve started to expand the roads to create easier access to the project area. Because there may be a lot of suffering among the local people, I oppose the project,” said Ko Jimmy.

According to villagers, the Ye Township Department of Agricultural Land Management and Statistics is trying to classify Mount Bleh Patoi as vacant and fallow under the 2012 Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law, a move that would allow the government to confiscate the land from villagers indefinitely. Given that the land is actively used by residents of Dani Thakyar and Magyi villages, the classification of Mount Bleh Patoi as vacant and fallow land would affirm villagers’ suspicions that corruption is the driving force behind this project.

In a bid to win the hearts and minds of villagers, EFD pledged to send residents of Magyi village to Bodh Gaya, a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sight in India’s Bihar State.

The company offered the trip as an incentive [to support the project] to villagers, and it made many people happy…That wasn’t their fault. The company wants to proceed with their project, so they’ve tried to persuade the villagers [by sponsoring the trip],” stated HRJI’s Ko Jimmy.

About 100 farmers have betel nut plantations on the mountain. My plantation is also there. It provides a great annual income. The compensation offered by the company [for our land] is enough only for three years. This plantation has provided for us since the time of our great, great grandparents,” said U Shel, a plantation owner from Magyi.

The proposed mining project will place some 3,000 acres of plantation land on Mount Bleh Patoi under threat, endangering if not altogether eliminating the livelihoods of at least 700 households in Dani Thakyar and Magyi villages.

Beginning in December 2017, HURFOM reported that a combination of administrative misconduct, coercion, and threats of violence tied to EFD prompted villagers in Dani Thakyar and Magyi to voice their opposition to the company’s proposed stone mining project. In January 2018, it was reported that out of deference to — or because of potential intimidation by — a prominent local monk, some villagers had agreed to sell their land to EFD. Now that EFD has sought to obtain the written consent of villagers, it appears the company is ready to proceed with its stone mining project. However, it remains wholly unclear whether EFD has applied for permission to legally begin operations.

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