YANGON — The Karen State chief minister told residents of Lun Nya village she would try to dismiss a case brought against eleven local farmers. They were charged for removing earth from a rural track used to transport rocks from a controversial mountain quarry to a highway being built by a Chinese company with funds from the Asian Development Bank.
However, during the meeting at a community hall on May 12, Chief Minister Nang Khin Htwe Myint dismissed broader concerns over the highway and quarry as not representing “the voice of the people.”
On a three-minute video recording of the meeting shared with Myanmar Now, she said, “this is a government project. We cannot act against the national government.”
When a local youth implored, "Is this not a government that listens to the voice of the people?" the chief minister retorted, "This is not relevant. This is not the voice of the people. This is the voice of renegades."
"Earth, air and water are the state property. You do not own them,” a man in official government uniform, standing next to the chief minister, also told the youth.
Hpa-an District officer Saw Kyaw Min Oo sued Saw Nyein Phyu of Lun Nya village under Penal Code section 431— concerning “mischief by injury to public road, bridge, river, or channel” and carrying a maximum five-year prison sentence—at Eindu police station for lowering the track using a backhoe, station officer U Min Aung Tun told Myanmar Now
Ten other farmers were also charged for backing Saw Nyein Phyu’s action, which was undertaken on April 20 to reduce local flooding. The raising of the track to accommodate trucks had prevented drainage between fields, according to Saw Nyein Phyu.
Saw Nyein Phyu said villagers made a formal request to the government to lower the track but no action was taken. “Since the monsoon is coming, I hired a backhoe to press the road down. I didn't damage the road. I just pressed it down,'' he said.
“No one has come to withdraw the case yet," police officer Min Aung Tun said.
The China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) is upgrading the 66-kilometer Eindu-Kawkareik section of the Asia Highway, intended to increase connectivity between Myanmar and Thailand.
According to local residents, the company is continuing to source rocks from a quarry on Lun Nya mountain licensed to Chit Linn Myaing, a company chaired by Colonel Saw Chit Thu, commander of the Myanmar military-backed Border Guard Force militia.
The charging of the farmers marked the latest development in an extended dispute over the mountain quarry between local residents, on one side, and the government and companies on the other. Locals say the quarry has spoiled their natural environment and potentially endangers their water source within the mountain.
The three-year contract between CRBC and Col. Saw Chit Thu’s company covers operations over five acres of the mountain, Lun Nya village administrator U Saw Aye Maung told Myanmar Now. The mining began in August last year and an average of 15 haul trucks of rock continue to be mined each day, he said.
More than 200 Lun Nya locals held a press conference in November last year calling for the quarry to be terminated, citing grave environmental degradation.
"They mine 10 to 15 trucks of rock each day. We get water from the mountain. The caves in the mountain have lakes, deep as the length of a bamboo tree. It the only water resource for us villagers," Saw Nyein Phyu told Myanmar Now.
Editing by Ben Dunant