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Washed Out

Greetings from the Lahu National Development Organization


We are pleased to welcome you to this third issue of Undercurrents, in which we continue to monitor
development along Burma’s Mekong. One of the world’s longest and most biodiverse rivers, the Unprecedented flooding wreaks havoc in the Golden Triangle
Mekong forms the border between Laos and Burma’s Shan State for a stretch of 234 kilometers in the
infamous Golden Triangle. On the Burma side of the river, ethnic Lahu and Akha highlanders as well as
Shan lowlanders live in extremely isolated and volatile conditions. In August 2008 the water level of
the Mekong in the Golden
In our last issue we reported on how that isolation enables unchecked rapacious logging and mining that Triangle area reached 14 meters,
causes environmental degradation and displacement, fracturing some of the least known cultures in the its highest level in 40 years. News
world and threatening yet to be documented biodiversity. agencies reported that flood
waters inundated parts of Luang
In this issue we focus on the expanding influence of Chinese interests along the Mekong in Burma, from Prabang and Vientiane provinces
increased wildlife trading to rubber plantations and mining operations. In Lahu and Akha villages in in Laos and over 2,000 villages in
eastern Shan State, Chinese agents are handing out traps, poison, and skinning tools while contracting at least seven northern provinces
hunters with fixed rates for rare animals such as leopards, bears, and pangolins. Village headmen are in Thailand, causing the deaths of
solicited to safeguard precious gems for agents who make the rounds looking for potential mining sites. four people. Information on the
hardship of villagers along
Under the banner of opium eradication, the Yunnan Hongyu Group, a company that has been lauded at Burma’s Mekong was scarce,
the United Nations by Chinese government officials for its work, is establishing huge tracts of rubber however.
plantations by employing forced labor and burning down forests after entire villages are forcibly relocated.
Yet even with such drastic measures, by all accounts opium cultivation increased in eastern Shan State Farmers living and planting along
last season. Meanwhile, China continues to steam ahead with the construction of eight giant dams on the the banks of the Nam lone creek,
mainstream Mekong while downstream communities anxiously question what impacts will befall them, a tributary of the Mekong, and Rice fields in Pang Peng destroyed by surging water levels on the
especially after unprecedented floods in August 2008 damaged thousands of acres of paddy farms. many other small streams which Mekong in August 2008
flow into Mekong River, suffered up to both friendship bridges
The long time lapse since our last issue is a reflection of the difficulty and danger of gathering floods and devastation to their linking the towns. A shopkeeper
information inside military-ruled Burma. This year has seen rising tensions and clashes since the State farms, particularly in Monglane, in Tachilek at the time Downstream communities and
Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced that it will hold elections in 2010 and started Pang Peng, Nam Khin, Kawkawn, bemoaned: “The authorities governments have called for
pressuring ceasefire armies to surrender their weapons. After a sham referendum in 2008 most remain Seinlon and Pa Liao villages. haven’t done anything about the China to be more transparent
mistrustful of the regime. Open shoot-outs on the Mekong among drug gangs and militias are also not situation here. At least the Thai about the operation of sluice gates
uncommon. Yet we remain committed to gathering information and stories from local people so that their Many newly planted rice fields government has some emergency on upstream dams and impacts
situation can be understood. were covered with mud and measures in place, but we don’t downstream, as well as for the
damaged. Villagers were unable to have such things in Burma.” improvement to a flood warning
We hope that readers will plant again for they had no more system. Villagers along the
seriously consider the impacts seedlings and there was no Countless paddy fields along Mekong in Burma, however, will
of the destructive and assistance available for a new both banks of the Mae Sai River most likely be the last to benefit
unsustainable pattern of crop. “We just finished planting were damaged, some as far from such a system.
development unfolding in the rice a few weeks ago. The inland as 13 kilometers on the
Burma’s Mekong region. We seedlings have all died under the Burma side. Some fields in
urge you to join us in searching water now. The water reached 17 Chiang Rai province in Thailand
for ways in which all those that
rely on the Mekong can benefit
kilometers from the bank of
Mekong” said one villager from
were still flooded nearly a
month later.
“We just finished
equally from development
projects within their countries
Tachilek. planting the rice
Although China denies that the
and be protected from The rising waters also affected the August flooding was caused by a few weeks ago.
disproportionate negative town of Tachilek. The Mekong its dams upstream, villagers in
impacts across borders. backed up and into the Mae Sai both Burma and Thailand have The seedlings
The future of our Mekong
depends on it.
River on the Thailand/Burma
border causing the high level to
been reporting unseasonal
flooding and unprecedented
have all died
Awv bon ui _ javmeh_
overflow the bridge on August
17th. Border checkpoints between
fluctuations in water levels in
recent years and are worried
under the water
Thank you from LNDO Tachilek in Burma and Mae Sai in about changes to the river due to now...”
Thailand were shut from August the dams (See Undercurrents
17-20 when the water level rose Issue 2).

Undercurrents Issue 3 21
UP FOR SALE:
Tiger skin and other
wildlife parts on
display in Tachilek
market

Undercurrents
Monitoring Development on Burma’s Mekong
April 2009, Issue 3

Mekong Biodiversity Up for Sale........................................2


A new hub of wildlife trade and a network of direct buyers
from China is hastening the pace of species loss

Rubber Mania........................................................................6
Scrambling to supply China, can ordinary farmers benefit?

Drug Country........................................................................11
Another opium season in eastern Shan State sees increased
cultivation, mulitple cropping and a new form of an old drug Land cleared for Hongyu rubber
plantations in Tachilek
Construction Steams Ahead..............................................16
A photo essay from the Nouzhadu Dam, one of the eight
planned on the mainstream Mekong in China

Digging for Riches..............................................................18


An update on mining operations in eastern Shan State

Washed Out.........................................................................21
Unprecedented flooding wreaks havoc in the Golden Triangle
Site of the Nouzhadu Dam

Undercurrents is a publication of the Lahu Development Organization (LNDO). LNDO was set up to promote
the welfare and well-being of Lahu people, including the promotion of alternatives to growing opium. LNDO also
fosters unity and cooperation among the Lahu and other highlanders from Shan State. Previous publications by
LNDO are all available at www.burmariversnetwork.org and www.shanland.org
To contact LNDO, please email lndorg@yahoo.com
COVER PHOTO: Wild cat on the market in Mongla
Undercurrents Issue 3 1
CAUGHT: This
monkey is being
kept alive so that a
Chinese customer
can drink his brain
matter

Mekong Biodiversity
UP FOR SALE
The border towns of Mongla and Keng Larb: New hub of the the six bridges that have been
Tachilek have been known as wildlife trade planned along a 50-mile road from
popular posts for illegal wildlife Its location on the Mekong makes Ta Lerh (see Undercurrents 1).
trade to China and Thailand for Keng Larb a good place for Although an initial bridge at Pang
years. Rare animals were openly transporting goods by river to Peng was finished in 2003, the
on display at markets in the towns China, Laos, Thailand and other other six bridges have been in a
and illegal purchases were made Southeast Asian countries. It was state of half-construction since
in plain sight. Over the past two with the aim of developing Keng 2004.
years, however, a significant shift Larb into a “regional
has occurred. Keng Larb, located transportation and trade hub” that Villagers from the surrounding
on the Mekong in northeast Shan it was upgraded to a township in area are repeatedly forced to
State, has emerged as a new 2004. The town itself was once a carry timber to the bridge sites but
center for wildlife trade, with Shan-Akha village with the material inevitably disappears
almost all traffic now headed to approximately 700 families but on the black market. SPDC
China and the bulk of trade now houses several government military officers change
happening under the table directly departmental offices. The SPDC frequently. Every year a new
between a network of buyers and has even set up a high school military outpost camp officer
sellers. Sop Lwe, the Burmese (although no one attends it as arrives, he demands that villagers
port town on the Mekong in almost all students never pass the collect timber and proclaims “we
Special Region #4, and Muang sixth standard). must finish the bridge(s) this
Sing, a China-Lao border point, year.” Yet since 2004 not even one
are also replacing the old wildlife The futility of the developments in of the six bridges has been
trading centers. Keng Larb is also evidenced by completed. Local authorities have

2 Undercurrents Issue 3
been pilfering their share of the attractive alternative and is A shift from Thailand to China
timber to make as much gain as consequently now a center for The trade to Thailand overall has
possible before moving on to their drug-running, illegal logging, and declined significantly. This began
next post. human trafficking. It is also fast slowly ten years ago when the
becoming a booming market for Thai government banned the
According to traders, the real illegal, exotic animals and wildlife transport of live animals across
advantage of Keng Larb as a products bound for China, putting the border and enforcement has
trading center is that it is cheaper greater pressure on the region’s been improving. Over the past two
to do business. Compared to endangered and threatened years almost all trade has shifted
Tachilek, there are fewer road animals such as tigers, bears, and to the China side except meat for
checkpoints and department pangolins. Chameleons, grass consumption, and elephant and
offices, and no immigration or lizards, crickets, geckos, dung deer horns. For example Mong
customs offices. Therefore fewer beetles, snakes, and various Hta and Maisoong villages of
bribes and taxes need to be paid at wildlife, big and small, are Mong Ton Township, under control
each step of the trade. One gathered at Keng Larb from Mong of UWSA-South’s 171 Brigade,
shopkeeper trading in illegal Ton and Monghsat townships. have become a market for bear
wildlife explained how expensive Some wildlife destined for China is meat export to Thailand.
Tachilek is: “I have to pay transported from Thailand to Keng
10,000 Thai Baht (US$285) per Larb, mostly live pangolins. Cattle smuggling that in the past
month to the customs group as a Tachilek now has a limited variety was almost exclusively to Thailand
bribe to do business. After that of wildlife on offer, with the has also turned to the Chinese
the police or military majority of deals happening in market. One water buffalo that in
intelligence officers come secret. the past sold for 10,000 Thai Baht
asking for some cash for their to Thailand, now sells for 3,000
personal needs. Sometimes, just Keng Larb’s location is also ideal Yuan, or over 15,000 Thai Baht, to
to cross the bridge or the river for transporting wildlife parts or China. Buffalo are transported by
of the border from Tachilek to live animals by river to Chinese foot across the border, by road,
Mae Sai, a trader has to pay markets. In the past wildlife was and some are sent up the Mekong
one tenth of his costs as a bribe rarely smuggled on the Mekong from Tachilek Township. Sales of
to the customs group.” (The itself. Today it is more common buffalo have picked up since the
customs group includes military because although it takes longer, it increasing commercialization of
intelligence, special police, and is cheaper than transport by road. farmland in China, including the
customs and township authorities.) There are much fewer Party decision in 2008 to allow
checkpoints and no customs farmers to buy and sell their lands.
Due to the expenses in Tachilek, officers.
Keng Larb has become an

A new hub of
illegal wildlife
trade and a
network of
direct buyers
from China is
hastening the
pace of species
loss
Undercurrents Issue 3 3
prices. We didn’t want to keep way. The news spread fast of
SELLING A TIGER the tiger too long in the village our catch. Nine people from
In January 2009 LNDO because the owner had to pay Kengtung to Mongla came to
interviewed a helper of a tiger ten people daily to keep security find us and bargain.
skin seller over the carcass.
When we were half way to Keng
On 13 January a big tiger The 20 of January was an Ox
th
Larb, we met with a buyer who
attacked and killed a farm ox in Day on the Lahu /Akha came from the Lao side. This
Mong Kai village (Kengtung calendar. We believe a day of ox guy was following us for two
Township). After the tiger is good luck for trading. The days and gave the highest price
retreated, the owner put animist hill people have to - 700,000 Baht (US$20,000) for
Chinese-made poison into the ox choose those days that are good the skin and the bones that
carcass. That evening the tiger luck on the calendar. For weighed just over 14 Viss (51 lbs.).
returned and ate the poisoned hunting, Chicken or Pig days
meat. The ox owner and some are good luck. For trading, we The ox owner had already spent
villagers easily found the dead can never choose a Dragon or 30,000 Baht (10,000 to the
tiger a few yards away from the Snake day. We also sacrificed a militia leader in the village,
ox near a stream. chicken and checked whether it 1,500 to the headmen where we
was safe to go by the omens in stayed the night, 2,000 to 2
We skinned the tiger and began the chicken bones. All was fine, military camps, and 16,500 for
drying the carcass. Within two so we started our journey. the trip (to pay helpers)). So he
days, buyers from different was able to keep 670,000 Baht,
places came for bargaining. The On the way we were stopped by but once he returned home he
owner didn’t make any decision many dealers wanting to buy the needed to buy some ox to
to sell because the village tiger. Mostly they were agents of sacrifice in thanks at 8,000
headmen suggested that he go Chinese businesses. We stayed Baht a piece.
to Keng Larb for the famous over night at two places on the

Lahu hunters yesterday and today


Lahu across China, Burma, Vietnam, Laos,
and Thailand are very fond of hunting.
Chinese call them La Hu, or “tiger hunter.”
Shan call them Muser, meaning “those who
are happy in the jungle like tigers.” Burmese
call them La Hu Mote Sol, “the hunter Lahu.”

Lahus have handed down the skill of hunting


for generations. Traditionally every Saturday
is a day of hunting. On Saturdays everybody
is free from working; women go to catch fish,
and men go to hunt. In the past hunting was
Lahu hunting group in eastern Shan State (Nam not for a market but only for eating. Lahu are
Hen forest) April 1999 a mountain people and mostly very poor. In a
village there was no big merchants and it was
very hard to get meat or any food in the market. Therefore the meat of wild animals was for their survival.

However, nowadays, under the rule of the Burmese military, taxes and levies have become very heavy.
Every household is seeking income to meet this burden. Some seek work logging or mining, others
become drug traffickers or cattle smugglers.

Similarly, Lahu are now hunting for money. These days in every village either the headman or an agent
of a Chinese boss keeps a certain amount of money with them to buy what the villagers can get from
the forest, whether it is rare wild orchids, herbs, or animals, alive or dead. Sometimes a hunter can get
advance money easily since the cash is in the village. The incentive is very high for hunters that are
already skilled and knowledgeable.

4 Undercurrents Issue 3
New buyers, new prices GOING PRICES in Keng Larb
Instead of Thai or western buyers
Animal Product Amount Price
that used to frequent the markets
in Tachilek, the majority of buyers Leopard Skin and full Bone 5-12 500,000 Baht
in Keng Larb are Chinese traders set of bones* Viss (US$14,300) for
(18 - 43.2 lbs) 12 Viss
based in the town. They use Lahu
hunters as contractors to catch or Pangolin Shell 1-10 tical 120 Baht
kill rare animals and gather forest (16.33 grams) (US$3.40) / tical
products (see box Lahu Hunters). Bear Dried gall 4-5 tical 70,000 Baht
The Lahu sellers can get a better bladder (14.4-18 (US$2,000) for 5
price for animals in Keng Larb grams) tical
than in Tachilek, with the following Otter Skin 8-24 inches 150 Yuan
going rates (see table). (Small type - (US$22) /
yellowish 8 inches
Losing the future stomach)
A recent study reported that 1,068 Otter Skin 8-40 inches 260 Yuan or
species were newly identified by (Big type - white 1,300 Baht
scientists between 1997 and 2007 stomach, (US$37)/
in areas around the Mekong River. webbed feet) 8 inches
“This reaffirms the Greater Turtle Dried shell or 1 Viss (3.6 lbs) 450 Baht
Mekong’s place on the world map Alive (US$13) / Viss
of conservation priorities” said Small black tree With nest 1 Viss (3.6 lbs) 60 Baht
Stuart Chapman, the director of ants** (US$1.75) / Viss
the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater
Mekong Programme when the * Dry skin and bones must be sold together
** Lahu have never heard of selling these ants before, it is a new product for
report was released in December the Chinese market
2008. Yet, wildlife trading from
Burma over the past twenty years
to Loi Na Kha yel of Mong Hai the local people to catch the
has threatened various species and
tract. But so often poachers wild animals. They have otter
now several animals are becoming
from Thailand and Burma traps, civet traps, bird nets,
scarce. Some have already
hunted them for ivory and killed tiger poison, and tools for
disappeared.
many. In 1990 I heard there skinning too.
were only 13 left.
Lahu hunting could be lost
TESTIMONY OF
Fifteen years ago there were completely. Now in just a short
DISAPPEARING WILDLIFE
many groups of gibbons in Loi time we have a hard time finding
Interview with a 71-year old
Maw Hta Lon forest. Now they turtles, otters, and bears. Tigers
hunter from Keng Larb
have all disappeared because of are scarce and pangolins are
Township, December 2008
logging and the noise of the almost gone.”
chain saws.
“I don’t know how many kinds Note: Currently there are an estimated 17
Ten years ago I went to hunt in elephants in Mong Lu forest (Monghsat
of wild animals are on the
Township) where the Shan State Army-
Burma side along the Mekong. Loi Phakuton forest beyond the South bans elephant hunting. There are an
But so many times I watched on bank of the Mekong. I found a estimated 31 elephants in Loi Pu Meung
the bank and saw deer, boar, pair of monkeys bigger than forest (Monghsat Township) where
gaur and other migrating bear with long yellow hair. I had UWSA-S bans hunting.
animals cross the water. never seen anything like them
before in my hunting life. Later
my son returned there several
“Fifteen years ago there
About 50 years ago a herd of 30
to 50 elephants used to cross the times but never saw any tracks were many groups of
river from Muang Sing in Laos of those monkeys. Maybe they gibbons in Loi Maw
to Nam Yawn forest in Burma 2 moved to the other side into
or 3 times a year. Later we never Lao’s forests. Hta Lon forest. Now
saw them. We knew a group of they have all
thirty used to pass through the Today Chinese wildlife traders
Loi Pha Lang mountain range give various kinds of traps to disappeared...”
Undercurrents Issue 3 5
Rubber Mania
Scrambling to supply China, can ordinary farmers benefit?

Over the last decade, rubber trees the latter half of 2008, and is reinforcing its military bases
have been planted at an currently extremely unstable. around the ceasefire territories.
increasingly accelerated rate in Following the constitutional One armed clash between the
Burma. Along the roads on the referendum carried out by the UWSA and the regime’s troops
China-Burma border in Kachin Burmese military regime in May has already taken place in early
State one can see vast tracts of 2008, and the announcement that 2009. Within this context, villagers
rubber. In Shan State, also, rubber elections will be held in 2010, the are at the mercy of not only the
is spreading in several townships regime has been increasing ruling military junta in Burma but
in the southeast and north. China’s pressure on the ceasefire armies various armed groups, all of whom
insatiable appetite for the material in Shan State to surrender their are interested in rubber.
along with its decreasing available weapons and join the election
land, are driving forces behind this process. Various ceasefire armies, Rubber lures ceasefire groups
change. China and Burma’s including the 40,000 strong United In Wa-controlled areas, where
interest in using rubber as a drug Wa State Army (UWSA), have leaders are pressured to prove
substitution crop to eradicate remained mistrustful of the regime that they are not involved in opium
opium is another. and are refusing to disarm. The cultivation, rubber has become
regime has responded by quite popular as a drug substitution
In eastern Shan State, incentives
from Chinese businessmen,
together with forced plantings and
BURNED DOWN: Land
large-scale plantations, all
cleared for Hongyu rubber
constitute a fixation with rubber.
plantation in Tachilek
However, the promise of rubber
Township
may never pay off. First, due to
the nature of uncontrolled
commerce, investors have already
been cheated with poor seeds,
poor or fake budded seedlings, or
unfair price offers in several
areas. A general lack of technical
expertise and knowledge about
rubber, together with the lack of
fire control in Shan State, resulting
in the loss of rubber trees, also
make long-term success
questionable. Finally, the feasibility
of drug eradication is doubtful
when rubber is often planted along
main roads while opium cultivation
continues unabated in more
interior areas (see Drug Country).
The test of rubber’s success will
come in measuring the actual
benefits to ordinary farmers and
villagers, which so far do not add
up.

The political situation in eastern


Shan State has worsened during (photo taken with video camera)

6 Undercurrents Issue 3
crop to clear their name. This,
together with a policy instituted by China’s demand - Burma’s answer

Photo Myanmar Times


the UWSA in 1993 that each China is the world’s top rubber consumer,
brigade or division commander overtaking the United States in 2002.
must be self-sufficient, has Although it is a substantial producer of
compelled Wa leaders to increase rubber itself, China’s demand is too high
trading and farming businesses. for its domestic product, making it also
Rubber is especially popular as the biggest importer of rubber in the
leaders feel it will reap enough world. To meet its needs, China has
profits to support their troops and turned to its neighbors. It is the largest
send some funds back to central investor in agribusiness in Laos, with
headquarters. For example, ten almost all rubber production in Laos
years ago UWSA leader Bao You driven by Chinese demand. Burma is also an attractive site of land
Chang planted 100,000 rubber and labor. Official statistics show Burma cultivated 302,000
plants. hectares of rubber in 2006; the Ministry of Agriculture and
Irrigation is aiming to increase that by a further 100,000 hectares
More recently, since August 2008, in 2008. Burma currently consumes 15% of the rubber it produces
Takap, a southern commander in with the rest exported mainly to China, Malaysia and Singapore.
the UWSA, has employed local
villagers to plant rubber seedlings
on their own lands in the Lahu per tree planted. Villagers must The frustration of Lin Ming Xian
village of Peinsa in Monghsat maintain the plantations and may be shared by many other
Township. He provides the rubber protect the trees from fire and hopeful rubber entrepreneurs if
seedlings and pays 3 Thai Baht animals. Takap has said that when they are not careful about the
the trees produce, he will give quality of seedlings they plant.
30% of the profits to the One rubber farmer across from
landowner. This year the villagers Mongla in China explained “To get
are happy as they were able to good latex you must have good
earn 3 baht per tree. However, it quality stock from an old rubber
will take several years for the tree. It is very important. You
trees to produce and there is no should take a bud from that one
written guarantee of the benefit and graft it; otherwise you will
sharing arrangement. not have good production.” In
UWSA areas, some rich men are
The productivity of the rubber is a buying their own plants for a going
serious concern. Ten years ago price of 2 Yuan each, but it’s not
Lin Ming Xian, the commander of clear if the buyers know well
Special Region #4 in the northeast about the seedling quality.
corner of Shan State, ordered his
officers to grow rubber along the Ruling military and Chinese
border roadsides from Mongla to promote rubber
Ta ping, Mong Ma, and Mong
Kha. Today some of those trees Villagers forced into rubber
are producing well. But in early Rubber is not only expanding
2008 Lin Ming Xian reassessed under the purview of the Wa and
the project after great other ceasefire armies, but also
disappointment in the overall under the promotion of the ruling
production of the tress and military government in cooperation
percentage of latex in the rubber. with Chinese business interests in
One of his assistants recalled that Shan State. Starting in 2006,
at one meeting the commander headmen in Keng Larb Township,
slammed his fists on the table and which lies along the Mekong
yelled, “All my good forest is River, informed villagers that an
gone, millions of money has order had come from the township
been lost, now what to do with field commander. Farmers were
this useless rubber?” forbidden to cut forest in shifting

Undercurrents Issue 3 7
cultivation for rice fields, but they “We have no chance to survive Armed groups scramble to invest
could cut to plant rubber. As rice in spite of growing rubber for In addition to rubber cultivation by
fields were restricted, Akha and Chinese bosses. The military individual villagers, several Lahu
Lahu villagers began suffering orders us ‘do not cut one tree,’ militia groups have also started
food shortages. Villagers in Pa but for rubber plantation, ‘cut planting tracts of rubber in
Liao, Keng Larb, Mongkok, Loi as much as you can.’ We don’t Tachilek and Monghsat townships
Taw Kham, Mong Phong, and have any money for food but we (see map). For example, west of
Phan Min tracts had no choice but have to wait 7 to 8 years to get Tachilek the militia chief Yeshel
to ask money from Chinese benefit from rubber - it is from Wan Pung (hot spring)
businessmen to plant rubber. impossible for us.” village planted an estimated 1,000
These agents provided seedlings acres in 2007. The chiefs buy
and paid villagers 3 baht per tree The situation in Keng Larb seedlings from Chinese traders at
for planting. demonstrates how villagers face 2-3 Yuan each in bundles of 20-30
difficulties in representing seedlings. They then use their
Villagers are hoping to receive themselves against outside soldiers and pay local villagers to
some share of the profits once the interests seeking to manipulate plant the trees and clear the
rubber starts producing. The Akha public law for private gain. Verbal weeds once a year.
in particular see rubber as a contracts of long term leasing for
potentially lucrative cash crop rubber production are in fact land Burma Army military officers and
because they believe that their grabs with no guarantee of territory authorities with money
Akha relatives in China have a benefits, reducing villagers to are also scrambling to invest in
better standard of living due to laborers for Chinese agents. rubber. As they rival with each
rubber. However, no one knows if Private interests are colluding with other to grow much more than the
they can make any money before military authorities, forcing villagers others, nearby villagers are not
the rubber produces, which could into arrangements that have no spared the confiscation of their
take up to seven years. One long term security and threaten lands.
villager from Keng Larb Township their natural resource base.
bitterly explained:

Areas under rubber cultivation in Tachilek Township


surveyed by LNDO

8 Undercurrents Issue 3
A retired Akha soldier from The Hongyu Group: Living up to its Global Compact pledge?
Tachilek Township had 20 acres of
land that had been passed through “Projects will be executed on the principle of equality, mutual
his family for generations. Two benefits, supplying each other’s needs and mutual respect.” - Ma
years ago he began growing Zhengshu, Chairman of the Yunnan Hongyu Group Co., Ltd., describing
maezali trees (Cassia siamea) to his company’s projects in Burma
sell for firewood. But before the
trees were big enough to cut, the Members of the three villages forcibly relocated for Hongyu rubber
Light Infantry Battalion 571 based plantations in Tachilek Township (see article) may disagree with Ma
in Ta Lerh and a local militia group Zhengshu’s idea of “mutual benefits.” Local people have so far endured
confiscated his land by force and unprecedented air pollution, land confiscation, forced labor, and forced
divided it up between them to relocation for the plantations. Nevertheless, Hongyu, a member of the
grow rubber. He tried again and United Nations Global Compact initiative on principled business
again to get back the land but practices, continues to work hand in hand with the military in Burma.
after complaining several times he
got back just 2 acres. The Established in February 1995 and located in Kunming, the capital of
battalion commander ordered him Yunnan Province, the private enterprise began approaching Burmese
to replant rubber or another authorities in 1998 “supported and guided by the provincial [Yunnan]
vegetable on the two acres instead government” to develop drug substitution schemes in Burma. By 2004
of maezali trees. Unfortunately the Group had received acknowledgement from the United Nations
this case is not isolated. He Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Yunnan Commission of
explained: “Many other villagers’ Narcotics Prohibition for its work.
lands have been confiscated by
military, village, or town According to a report submitted to the Yunnan Provincial Narcotics
authorities. They announce that Control Committee in 2004 by Hongyu, the company was to implement a
the land must be developed for project “to build rubber plantations in Tachilek of Myanmar…aimed at
the country, and then they take it.” relieving the shortage of rubber supply needed by China as well as the
world on the one hand, and reducing the opium poppy cultivated area on
Hongyu Plantations the other.”* The project will develop 100,000 hectares of rubber
Individual rubber plantings with plantations during 2004-2014. Although the general narrative of the
varying involvement of Chinese report specifies Tachilek as the location of rubber plantations, the
business interests are coupled with detailed description of the project mentions Special Region No. 2 (Wan
large-scale plantations of one Hong District, in Mong Hsat Township).
company in particular. The Yunnan
Hongyu Group Company Ltd. has It’s not clear whether the area described in the article at left is part of a
introduced rubber in Shan State new agreement, as understood by local residents, or part of the larger
under the banner of opium project described in the 2004 document. In either case, the complicity of
eradication and with license from the Hongyu Group in the abuses involved in establishing rubber
the ruling military. plantations is clearly against the ten principles in the areas of human
rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption that businesses are
In 2004 Hongyu made an encouraged to follow and advocate as signatories of the United Nations
agreement to plant 100,000 Global Compact.
hectares of rubber in Shan State
(see box), and according to local Its 2006 annual report on the implementation of the Compact clearly
residents, in 2006 the company states that Hongyu Group prohibits any form of forced labor, and has a
received another license to grow policy of a “people-oriented and humanized work atmosphere.” The
5,000 acres of rubber in an area report also notes that “During the feasibility study stage of new projects,
under the control of drug lord Wei Hongyu Group puts priority in assessment of impacts on ecological and
Hsueh Kang in Mong Hsat living environment, and takes measures to reduce and even eliminate
Township and 5,000 acres in such impacts.” While the Global Compact may accept Hongyu’s self-
Tachilek Township. Villagers don’t definition of humanized work atmosphere, impact assessments, and
know how much money the mutual benefits, residents of Tachilek Township certainly wouldn’t agree.
authorities received from the
company for this deal, just that the * Dedicating to Drug-crop Substitution Cultivation, Forging a Green Great Wall
company paid the military to Project of Drug-crop Substitution Cultivation, 2004, available at http://
english.ynjd.gov.cn/pubnews/doc/read/tdfz/906991389.117111478/index.asp
arrange land and labor for the
plantations.
Undercurrents Issue 3 9
The Tachilek project began in the newcomers to find enough coerced into planting rubber
earnest in March 2007 when the forest materials to make new themselves due to land use
Tachilek Field Commander sent shelters and homes. Without restrictions.
out the order that villagers were to enough land for everyone and little
cut and burn forest areas land to work, young Akha, both While some remain hopeful that
belonging to 17 villages in boys and girls, are leaving for Mae once the rubber trees start
preparation for planting rubber. Sai to find work in Thailand. producing they will enjoy
Every village lost some of their substantial earnings, the lack of
lands. Adding insult to injury security for ordinary farmers
remains a looming issue. Even in
A thick brown haze quickly First biofuel trees, now rubber Laos, land has been granted to
blanketed the region and take over lands Chinese investors without
unprecedented pollution levels As we reported in our last issue, compensation to villagers that
were registered as far away as the military junta has ordered the previously owned it. In Burma,
the northern Thai city of Chiang entire country to plant jatropha where the country is run by the
Mai, 270 kilometers to the south. trees for biodiesel production. In military and armed groups vie for
On the 10th of March the fire in its report Biofuel by Decree, the control, a guarantee of land rights
Yangshin village whipped out of Ethnic Community Development is more precarious.
control and two houses were burnt Forum documented how the
to the ground. Two children (ages program for biofuel is a fiasco, The long-term environmental
4 and 6) were killed when their causing forced labor, loss of lands, impact of rubber must also not be
parents could not save them from and impacting food security. overlooked. The clearance of
the flames. Meanwhile, failure of plantings is forests, some of them community
widespread and facilities to conservation areas, for a mono-
Orders also came down from the process the oil are not adequate. crop system, reduces natural
Commander demanding villagers biodiversity and eliminates vital
to plant the seedlings, encouraging While the country is being covered harvests of non-timber forest
“volunteer labor for the country’s in jatropha (in 2006 General Than products that many villagers rely
development.” Militia chiefs and Shwe ordered 8 million acres on. Erosion caused by rubber
village headmen rounded up the planted within three years), at the plantations has also been a
laborers to fulfil the field same time Chinese businessmen concern.
commander’s order, giving have licence to grow rubber
villagers 2.5 baht for each hole across large tracts of lands, The vitality of trees of varying
dug and 2.5 baht per seedling converting vital grazing grounds, quality stock and the percentage
planted. forests, and farming areas. Native of latex they can produce will be
farmers have fewer and fewer critical uncertainties to resolve in
Three months after the land- lands to grow their food crops. the coming years. In the short
clearing began, the Field Without land the hill peoples have term, however, the biggest
Commander then forced three of no job and no future. One poppy question that remains is what will
the seventeen villages to move to farmer from Monghsat lamented: farming families eat during the
Pakook tract ten miles away to “Poppy farming is good for us seven years before the rubber
make room for the plantations. but we don’t know it makes the actually starts to produce?
They were Pha He, a village of 46 world a problem. Now rubber
households working in shifting rice farms make us a bigger
farms for generations, Ho Na, a problem. Rubber takes our
village of 150 households growing conservation forest and cleans
beans for their survival, and Ji out the fire wood; there is no
Mai, a village of 35 households wood to build a house and no
breeding goats; all were Akha. land for our cattle grazing.”

When the newcomers arrived in What benefit?


Pakook with their farm animals, Farmers in Burma’s Mekong
the existing residents were region have been forcibly
extremely unhappy with the new relocated for rubber plantations,
competition for land and conflicts employed by armed groups to
have arisen. It is also difficult for establish tracts of rubber, and

10 Undercurrents Issue 3
Drug Country
Another opium season in eastern Shan State sees increased
cultivation, mulitple cropping, and a new form of an old drug

If one looks at a geographical map family and never sold. It cannot be Thai border point of Doi
of Burma you will find a mountain bought because it is priceless. Maekhalon (6,473 feet), crosses
range of 5-8,000 feet running from onto Thai soil and ends at Doi
China to Thailand, cutting through A peak of 8,694 feet at the China- Tung, now a national park.
eastern Shan State. It is one of the Burma border is the starting point
four main ranges in Burma, named of the range. Called Orlong Every year all of these mountains
Taungwin Mountain Range. Mountain, the Lahu Tubo (one are blooming with poppy flowers
Historically Taungwin was group of Lahu animists) say it is due to the excellent soil for poppy.
famous as the range that their Holy Land. The peaks then And every year this green swath
“protected from the Chinese roll steadily downward in a thin of peaks never ceases to be a
merchants” because it made line west of Kengtung, from prime drug trafficking route.
transportation difficult. Mount Nabokha at 7,087 feet to
5,330 feet, forming the Loi phe Cultivation in 2007-08 season
Green forests follow the line of mountain range. Each year LNDO surveys poppy
the range all along the way. Some farms in seven townships of
parts are thick jungle covering the The mountains rise again to Loi eastern Shan State (Kengtung,
ravine, but some areas are Sam Sao (7,810 feet) and after Mongping, Monghsat, Mongton,
cultivated. The land is excellent Kengtung, the range expands and Mongphyak, Tachilek, and
for growing opium. The soil is so widens to include Ar Ma point Mongyawng). During the 2007-08
good that land is passed down (7,665 feet) west of Mongphyak. season, field researchers noted
through generations in the same The range continues toward the more poppy farms than in recent
years in these areas. Good
Main Drug Trafficking Route of Eastern Shan State harvests were found in every
place.

Decreases in prices for opium


reflected the increase in poppy
production. From Mongping to the
Thai border (an area controlled by
the United Wa State Army or
UWSA), the price of raw opium
during April-July 2007 was fixed
at 25,000 Thai Baht (US$716) per
kilogram. This represents a 15%
decrease from the same period the
previous year, when one kilogram
was sold at 30,000 Baht. A villager
from Mongphyak Township
described how easy it is to find
opium in the area: “Nampang
village has a market every 5
days. You can buy as much
opium as you want at that
market.”

The collection of taxes on opium


farmers also seemed to go more

Undercurrents Issue 3 11
smoothly in the 2007-8 season. As Unusual poppy season An Akha poppy farmer from
usual, each house had to pay 2 Usually the poppy season begins in Monghsat said, “Since our
tical (32.66 grams) of opium to a November and the crop is ancestors’ time we have a lot of
local authority. (Depending on the harvested in January. Depending experience of how to grow
area, this could be a militia chief, a on the local weather conditions, poppy. Today we can grow
village headman, or a “middle- some places, such as Mount anytime we wish, not only 1 or 2
man,” all of whom then pass the Monghtalung and Nakhayel in times per year. If we avoid the
tax to a local Burma Army Tachilek Township, start in normal poppy season maybe we
battalion or township authority). In September and harvest in can evade the tax of the
contrast to other years, however, November. Mount Arma starts in authorities and the Burmese
there were no complaints, October and Loi Sam Sao in military poppy cutting
punishments, or token destruction November. In some areas planting operations.”
of fields by regime authorities can take place twice per year.
after the tax collection. Some New form of drug
believe that since the regime was Regardless of slight variations in Khatpong, or Kha khu in Kachin
carrying out its constitutional planting and harvesting times, the language, is a kind of mixture of
referendum in May 2008, the poppy plant cannot withstand rain. raw opium and banana leaves that
authorities did not want any If the rain falls within a week has been consumed for a long time
disturbances or resistance and so after planting, all the seedlings die. in Burma. Kachin say that
refrained from these activities. So everyone is careful to wait until smoking Kha khu protects from
the rainy season has stopped. If it malaria and relieves fever. The
Division of power stops early, poppy cultivation can strength of the mixture and risk of
Poppy farmers face restrictions begin earlier. addiction depends on the
from local armed groups when proportion of opium that is mixed
selling opium. These groups are Formerly, poppy growing in the with the leaves.
authorized by the military regime summer months of March and
to control certain areas and guard April was unheard of. However, in Kha khu is made by firstly
against resistance activities. The the 2007-08 season LNDO field splitting young banana leaves into
farmers must not deal with any researchers discovered poppies small strings and drying them in
buyers other than those who have flowering in Mongton and hot ash. Pieces of opium (as big
permission from the armed groups. Monghsat townships in March. as a thumb) are put in a cup or a
pan, then water or weak alcohol is
There are three general areas of A Palaung poppy farmer from dropped in and the mixture is
control in southeastern Shan State. Mongton said, “We got some boiled on the fire. After a few
Between Monghsat and Mong good quality poppy seeds from minutes, the dried roasted banana
Ping (including such mountains as Thailand. The seeds are not leaves are mixed in to the sticky
Monglin, Mong Kok, Pang Mu, Loi afraid of the rain and can grow mixture, being careful not to burn
Kha, Topang, Taseng, Winbo) is not only on high mountains but the leaves. The mixture is
controlled by Eh Ngweh, a Lahu also the lower lands.” continually rolled over and over in
militia chief based in Ponako. a ball using long sharpened
chopsticks. Once ready the ball is
Those growing opium between separated into smaller portions
Monghsat and Mongton (including which can be smoked with a
Loi Sang Kang, Loi Pa Hoo leng, bamboo pipe.
Loi Phakan, Loi lem, Loi Ho Koo,
Hopang, Hoyaw and Apuko) must Kha khu has always been made
sell to buyers who have a permit with banana leaves. Recently,
from UWSA’s 214th Brigade. however, a new form is emerging,
one that uses the stalks of the
All those in the area south of pennywort (Hydrocotyle asiatica,
Mongton to the Thai border and a vine growing on the ground,
Mong Pulon southwest of called Myin khwa - horse’s hoof -
Mongping Township must sell to A new form Kha Khu, made with in Burmese) plant instead of
buyers who have permission from opium and pennywort leaves, is banana leaves. This mixture has
UWSA’s 171st Brigade. The order now a hot item in Thailand and no smell and is very difficult to
is that whoever goes against this southwest China check.
system will be punished heavily.
12 Undercurrents Issue 3
The new Kha khu form is now
spreading into China and Thailand.
In China’s Yunnan province, it is Opium cultivation 2007-2008 over previous season
similar to the traditional smoking
of tobacco with a bamboo pipe, so
it is hard to know who is smoking
it. In Thailand, one route for the
Kha khu is through Doi Angkhang
from Nakawngmu of Mongton
Township, under the control of
UWSA’s 171st Brigade. Two
grams sells for 80-100 baht and
the market is spreading. Thai
officials are looking for the source
and trafficking route of this new
drug.

However, only a few people


recognize the difference between
the old and new drugs. Lahu and
Akha only know the name Kha
khu to refer to the old drug, which
is famous as herbal medicine.
People say it is good for ‘health,
long life, and sweet dreams.’

Failure of drug eradication


efforts
Over the last four decades
Burmese military dictators have
Division of Power: Control of the opium market 2007-2008
continuously proclaimed that they
are eradicating opium. News
about the destruction of poppy
fields, the detention of drug
traffickers, or drug-related
criminals being sentenced to jail
terms, are recorded in annual
government reports and broadcast
in government-controlled media.
Every year Burmese authorities
burn purportedly seized illicit
drugs, including opium, in front of
journalists and foreign dignitaries.

The United Nations and other


international organizations have
spent hundreds of millions of
dollars on opium eradication
projects in Burma. Development
projects for locals, including
education, health, agriculture,
livestock breeding, etc., were
arranged and implemented. The
World Food Program has been
supplying rice to former poppy
growers for five years. Drug

Undercurrents Issue 3 13
“Without democratic change there is no solution to the drug problem.
Democracy, development and an end to the flow of narcotics are all
linked.” - Khuensai Jaiyen, Shan Herald News Agency

eradication programs have been problem in these areas or in sharing benefits with authorities
tried again and again but after 35 Burma alone. On November 11, and those with high-ranking
years there is no progress. Today 2008, two drug traffickers from connections inevitably avoid
Burma is still the second largest Taiwan were arrested in Phuket, prosecution. In May 2008 Aung
opium producer in the world after Thailand in a heroin mega-bust Zaw Ye Myint, the son of
Afghanistan. that uncovered a web of drug Lieutenant General Ye Myint (a
transfers. Heroin from the Golden member of the State Peace and
Although some areas controlled by Triangle was being carried through Development Council) was
ethnic cease-fire groups, such as Thailand for distribution to Taiwan, accused of drug dealing and both
Special Region 1 (Kokang), Hong Kong, China and other he and his father were put under
Special Region 2 (UWSA) and countries in the region. An LNDO house arrest. The General’s wife
Special Region 4 (Mongla) have field researcher found that during then threatened that if her son and
been declared opium-free zones, November 2008 the price of husband were prosecuted, she
opium production is still increasing heroin was 400,000 Thai Baht per would reveal the names of other
every year over the whole Shan kilo in the Monghtalang area of generals involved in drug dealing.
State. According to UNODC’s Tachilek Township. Since then the case has not
annual opium surveys, during the proceeded.
year 2005-06 opium production Why no progress?
seemed to decrease slightly, but it The ruling military clique has been Pawns sacrificed after
increased 3% in 2007-08. That relying on drug money to run accidental drug bust - big fish
means that even according to the businesses and stay in power. still on the run
UN’s own agency, international While the junta proclaims success Sai Naw Kham, a militia chief
efforts to eradicate opium in in eradicating opium in order to formerly belonging to the Mong
Burma have not had positive receive international assistance, at Tai Army (MTA), operated as a
results. the same time infamous drug prominent drug lord based in
kingpins such as Lo Hsing-han, Tachilek after the MTA
Within the so-called opium-free Lin Ming Xian, and Wei Hsiao- surrendered to the Burma Army in
zones, cultivation of opium also kang are living luxuriously under 1996. His grand house stood close
continues. In 1997General Khin the full protection of the junta. to the city hall and only 100
Nyunt declared that there was no Banks that were established by meters from the local military
more poppy in Special Region 4, drug warlords with drug money intelligence office. On 26 June
controlled by Lin Ming Xian, but are used to finance road 2006, the SPDC authorities were
poppy is still cultivated along Nam construction and other preparing to hold drug destruction
Lwe creek in this area. UNODC infrastructure projects of the ceremonies at the city hall.
also calls Special Region 4 a drug military elite and their associated Embarrassingly, when special
free area. Opium and heroin are businesses. Drug lord Wei Hsueh- police were checking security for
not the only drug menace coming kang and his comrades control the the ceremony they discovered a
out of Burma’s Mekong region. Hong Pang group of companies, pill-producing machine together
which are involved in jewelry and with 600,000 methamphetamine
Even in areas where there is little gems, communications, electrical pills, 80 kilograms of heroin, 2
or no opium, the threat of other goods, agriculture, mining, textiles million Thai Baht, 800,000 US
drugs looms large. A passenger and large construction projects. Dollars, and 9 Viss of gold
from Mong Mao in the UWSA ornaments in Sai Naw Kham’s
controlled area said “Now at our News of drug seizures is often building.
place there are no poppy plants printed in Burmese newspapers,
but still opium dealers. Mostly but the sum of these seizures is a Sai Naw Kham immediately fled
there are too many amphetamine small percentage compared with to Laos where he lived freely until
dealers and so many addicts.” the magnitude of drugs handled by a shoot-out on the Mekong in
the junta’s accomplices. Arrests February 2009 (see Late Addition).
Drugs are obviously not just a are simply the result of disputes in

14 Undercurrents Issue 3
Opium-free: Possible without
dictatorship

Thirty years ago Doi Tung mountain


range in northern Thailand, where
many Lahu and Akha live, had plenty
of poppy farms. After years of
developing alternatives for the
Secretary (1) Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt Despite declarations of less villagers, one Lahu farmer testifies
addressing the opening production, 261 bars of heroin that life is better.
ceremony of a museum from the Golden Triangle
commemorating the declaration confiscated from a drug gang in Kya Kaw, age 78, is the oldest
of drug free zone in Mongla on Phuket, Thailand in November member of Hoe Nam Rim village.
22 April 1997 2008 In the past he stayed at Doi Ang
Khang on the Thai border and was
a poppy farmer. He also worked in
A source working closely to the and her four children are now a heroin factory of a Kuomintang
Naw Kham told a headman of one living in impoverished conditions. (Taiwan Chinese) camp. He says:
Mekong village, “We supported Yaw Na, a Lahu militia chief from
every battalion commander, field Monghai tract of Tachilek In 1995 when druglord Khun Sa
commander and military collected significant taxes along and Wa troops were fighting at my
intelligence officer of Tachilek the main route of drug trafficking place I fled into Thailand. My
with at least 2 million baht and cattle smuggling from Mongla group and another Shenlen Lahu
(US$57,000) per month, or as to the Mekong river bank and had from Mae Suan Township came
much as they requested, for ten close links with military officers. together and set up a village here.
years. We had many friends His income generation abilities Twenty years ago it was the best
both in Senior General Than gained him favor with the top soil for poppy in Thailand. When
Shwe’s gang and in Senior Generals and he was selected to I arrived I grew poppy for a year
General Maung Aye’s gang. But be a Lahu delegate at the 2005 it was very good but I became an
after General Khyin Nyunt was National Convention. However he addict.
ousted in 2004 many army was addicted to opium and died
officers rivaled for position. during the convention in Rangoon In this hillside we are 4 Shenlen
This led to our downfall.” on March 3rd, 2005. Others have Lahu villages. We have never
also succumbed to this fate. been forced to relocate and never
Several “smaller fish” who were been forced to porter like in
working in Sai Naw Kham’s web Late Addition: Burma. Now we have no more
of drug production and trafficking According to several reports, on poppy and every villager is
did not fare as well as their boss. February 18 a Chinese cargo boat growing flowers. We can sell as
Marku, a Lahu militia chief from was stopped on the Mekong by much as we produce. Some
Tachilek, was imprisoned after the Naw Kham’s gang and was then become richer and richer and
military seized 300,000 fired upon by a Burma Army have a prosperous life.
amphetamine pills, and 14 guns patrol, resulting in the death of one
without license from his property. Chinese crewman. The Burma
His wife says Marku gave at least Army is denying that they are at
100,000 Thai Baht (US$2,860) to fault and are blaming Naw Kham.
Tachilek Burma Army battalions A four-nation manhunt is now
per month, that the unlicensed underway for Naw Kham but he
guns belonged to military remains at large. At the time of
intelligence of Tachilek, and that publication 350 kilograms of heroin
he collected tax for Sai Naw and 217 million Thai Baht (US$ 6
Kham from drug traffickers and million) had already been seized.
cattle smugglers passing through Until this shoot-out, he had been
their area. She doesn’t understand one of the most successful drug
why only her husband has been lords in the Golden Triangle due to
prosecuted when everyone was his ability to pay off so many
involved in the same business. She levels of authority.

Undercurrents Issue 3 15
Construction steams ahead

NOUZHADU DAM:
The construction site in 2007

Dam Expected MW
completion
Gongguoqiao
Xiaowan
2008
2013
750
4200
Eight large dams on
Manwan 1996 1500 the mainstream
Dachaoshan 2003 1350 Mekong River in
Nuozhadu 2017 5850 China have created
Jinghong 2010 1750
Ganlanba n/a 150
much controversy
Mengsong n/a 600 among downstream
countries. China has so far
Lanc

completed three of the dams -


ang J

Manwan in 1993, Dachaoshan in


iang

2002 and Jinghong in June of


2008.Many blamed unprecedented
floods in August 2008 on the dams
completed (see Washed Out).

Nuozhadu Dam is the largest of


the dams in terms of total
generating capacity, at 5,850 MW.
Me

Once completed it will be one of


ko
ng

the tallest dams in the world.


Ri
ve

Construction on the 258 meter-


r

high structure began in 2006.


LNDO visited Nuozhadu in 2007.
The following photos are from that
trip.

16 Undercurrents Issue 3
In 2007 there were 30,000
workers at the Nouzhadu
site. This was expected to
reach 50,000 in 2009.
Rows of buildings (pictured
below) were in place for
worker accomodation.

According to an officer at
the site, Huaneng Power
International Ltd., the
company managing
construction, wants to finish
the project before the
expected completion date
of 2017.

Undercurrents Issue 3 17
Digging for riches
An update on mining operations springing up across Shan State

Mining operations have been gang has been digging at the site In December 2008 the Thai
springing up across Shan State in with the permission of some troops company marked the road for 60
the past few years, as interest by at a military outpost there. Every miles from Baan Thoed Thai on
top officials has spurred on night 2-3 trucks are taken out. The the Thai side through the border to
business deals and exploration. five villages that were ordered to Mongkhok and Thai workers could
Part of this is due to Lieutenant- move out of the area in April 2006 be seen in the area. However
General Kyaw Win, who was a have not been allowed to return reports have emerged of
field commander in southeastern despite relative inactivity at the resistance to the road construction
Shan State for a long time before mine. Four additional villages that on the Thai side due to security
being transferred to Kachin State. received an order that they would concerns and the route passing
He is now a member of the State have to move in 2009 are waiting through a national park.
Peace and Development Council anxiously to see what will happen.
under the Ministry of Defense and Regardless, one Burma Army
has overseen several mining Increased production near China battalion based at the mine field is
operations in Shan State. The border currently in the process of moving
following is an update on new and Three coal mines located in three kilometers away so that
existing mine fields. Special Region #4 which used to operations can begin. In January
each produce 80 tons per day 2009, nearby Shan, Akha and
Coal mines on the rise increased production to 100 tons Lahu villages were forced to work
per day in 2008. in dismantling, moving, and
New discovery in Mongphyak reconstructing the battalion’s
A new coal seam was discovered Coal destined for Thailand puts camp.
in early 2008 in the area of Sai villagers on edge
Khao Village, Mongphyak The Saraburi Coal Company from Nine villages totalling an estimated
Township (southeast Shan State). Thailand has been given a 600 people surround the mine site
A Chinese company is working the concession to operate a coal mine itself and will have to move out.
mine in cooperation with the son near Mongkhok in Monghsat
of Lieutenant-General Kyaw Win Township. Mongkhok consists of a In addition to relocation, given the
and Sa Hin, the son of notorious group of villages on the Kok River mine’s proximity to the Nam Kok
drug lord Khun Sa. Each day the about 40 kilometers north of the River, pollution and runoff from
mine is producing 3 trucks (up to Thai border. the mine are also of concern. No
20 tons) and the coal is one knows for certain how far
transported through Mong La to Ai Kyai is the Lahu militia chief downstream those impacts will be
China. They have an arrangement that used to control the area, but felt.
to transport 100 tons per day in over the years Burmese military
2009. Local people are concerned troops have increased. Today Zinc mine leads to forced labor
that they may have to relocate as there are three battalions of 1-200 hundred Lahu, Shan, Lisu,
the operations expand. roughly 200 soldiers each based in and Palaung villagers are being
the area under a tactical forced to work on a new road
Unexplainable delays in Kengtung commander. linking a zinc mine to the main
It looks as if full-scale operations road from Mongping to Takaw.
at the coal mine outside of Coal from Mongkhok was to fulfill Some of the villagers have to walk
Kengtung that we reported on in a US$500 million contract that one day by foot to reach the
our last issue (see story Saraburi had to supply the construction site. Each group of
“Unhindered Prospects”) have Electricity Generating Authority of workers has to stay for 5 days
been delayed. No one knows why Thailand (EGAT). In 2007 Thai before they can go back and
the Thai company that had been geologists surveyed the mine field, another group comes in rotation. A
operating at the mine is now leaving markers at the site. battalion based in Mongping is
absent. However, a Chinese boss overseeing the road construction

18 Undercurrents Issue 3
The mine is located south of Sen Mine Areas in Eastern Shan State 2008
Mao village and exploration is
underway by the Ministry of
Mines. They are hoping to begin
production in 2009. The Ministry
has invited the UWSA-South and cannot place - map name is New
a Chinese company to invest in the Mine ESS-so
project but until now the Wa are
not interested.

New antimony mine field


Work was started on a new
antimony mine at the confluence
of the Nam Hing and Khok creeks
in December 2008. General Kyaw
Win’s son, Khun Sa’s son Sa Hin,
Chinese, Thai and Lao business-
men have all invested in the
project. An estimated 80 houses in
the Shan village Mong Inn close
by and some small Lahu Kualao
villages in the surrounding area
may be impacted. Mong Inn is
1,000 years old and known for
having good farm lands and many
fruit gardens.

High-security mines Workers at the Wa-run block are #4 near the Chinese border. The
A mining area reported on in strictly checked and must be mine produced an estimated
Undercurrents 2 as having either registered. They are Wa soldiers 34,000 tons of rock per year in
lead, silver or gold is now believed and Lahu from the nearby villages, both 2004 and 2005 and was
to hold platinum. Ten miles from together with a few Chinese and closing in on the villages of Wan
Monghsat and between the Lao workers. Miners get 2,500 Saw and Wan Pha. After the
confluence of the Maekeng and Thai Baht (US$71) per kg of publication of Undercurrents,
Khok creeks, the mine is under the material.Workers from the Lahu mining at the site was stopped in
control of UWSA’s Brigade 214 block sometimes borrow machines early 2007. Today the trucks have
who keeps strict security of the from Chinese at the Wa block to disappeared and piles of rock sit
area. blast rock. idle.

There are two main blocks of 3 Work has been ongoing since 2003 Illegal Chinese miners cross
square miles each. One is with investment from Wa leaders, by day in Special Region #4
operated by Wa cooperating with Chinese, Thai and Lao business- Today many small groups of
Chinese, Thai, and Lao investors. men. Even some Japanese have Chinese miners are crossing the
The other block is run by Lahu come in. Agents for these border daily to search the earth
from the only two villages in the businesses stay in the Wa for whatever metal or gem may
triangle between the two rivers. headquarters after getting a permit earn them some money. Poor
Anyone who enters into either 3- from Wa leaders. Businessmen Chinese villagers come in groups
mile block without prior permission have to pay a percentage of their of 2-5 and dig or pan all day
is shot on the spot by Wa soldiers profits both to the UWSA and to before walking half an hour across
keeping security. Many Lahu men SPDC authorities. the mountain back to buyers
have already died after encroach- waiting on the China side. Each
ing into the block areas without Manganese mining halted in can earn 80-200 Yuan (US$12-29)
knowledge. Lahu in the two the north per day.
nearby villages have started In our last issue of Undercurrents,
digging their own rice fields we reported on a manganese mine LNDO interviewed illegal mine
looking for platinum. under operation in Special Region workers near the old manganese

Undercurrents Issue 3 19
Lahu villages in Ta Lerh,
Kengtung, Mongpin, Monghsat,
Tachilek and Mongphyak
townships, businessmen that can
speak fluent Lahu and have
permission to travel freely have
been instructing village headmen
that villagers should look for and
collect precious stones in local
streams.

Agents sometimes stay in the


village, examine the loot
themselves, and pay according to
their own assessment of the
worth. They ask the collector
where the gems were found in
order to further investigate
potentially lucrative sites. If any
area seems to have potential as a
An illegal Chinese worker pans for “wu” just a short distance from substantial mine site, the agent will
the China border. Lahu villagers have been solicited to pan for gems inform a bigger boss.
in local streams like this across eastern Shan State
In other cases, money is given in
advance to the village headman or
site who said they were able to factory in Jinhong where buyers a village-based dealer, who is to
find xin, wu, and mu. They did not bring the metals. keep the stones until an agent
write down these names in returns, upon which time
Chinese characters, but these Gem seeking for Chinese appropriate reimbursement will be
could be zinc, tungsten, and agents doled out. This system is similar to
molybdenum. The miners know A pattern that has gone on for the that set up for wildlife purchases
what they are looking for and how past two years expanded and (see Mekong Biodiversity Up for
to find it, so they may have had increased in 2008. Chinese Sale). In the case of wildlife,
some experience in the businessmen have been enlisting prices are fixed in advance, but
manganese mine or in other mines. Lahu villagers to seek out precious for stones, an agent must assess
LNDO was unable to get stones and potential mine sites the worth before payment is made.
information from the China side throughout eastern Shan State.
but it is possible that there is a According to information from

Piles of rock from the


now idle manganese mine
block the road at Wan
Saw village, May 2008

20 Undercurrents Issue 3
Greetings from the Lahu National Development Organization
We are pleased to welcome you to this third issue of Undercurrents, in which we continue to monitor
Washed Out
development along Burma’s Mekong. One of the world’s longest and most biodiverse rivers, the Unprecedented flooding wreaks havoc in the Golden Triangle
Mekong forms the border between Laos and Burma’s Shan State for a stretch of 234 kilometers in the
infamous Golden Triangle. On the Burma side of the river, ethnic Lahu and Akha highlanders as well as
Shan lowlanders live in extremely isolated and volatile conditions. In August 2008 the water level of
the Mekong in the Golden
In our last issue we reported on how that isolation enables unchecked rapacious logging and mining that Triangle area reached 14 meters,
causes environmental degradation and displacement, fracturing some of the least known cultures in the its highest level in 40 years. News
world and threatening yet to be documented biodiversity. agencies reported that flood
waters inundated parts of Luang
In this issue we focus on the expanding influence of Chinese interests along the Mekong in Burma, from Prabang and Vientiane provinces
increased wildlife trading to rubber plantations and mining operations. In Lahu and Akha villages in in Laos and over 2,000 villages in
eastern Shan State, Chinese agents are handing out traps, poison, and skinning tools while contracting at least seven northern provinces
hunters with fixed rates for rare animals such as leopards, bears, and pangolins. Village headmen are in Thailand, causing the deaths of
solicited to safeguard precious gems for agents who make the rounds looking for potential mining sites. four people. Information on the
hardship of villagers along
Under the banner of opium eradication, the Yunnan Hongyu Group, a company that has been lauded at Burma’s Mekong was scarce,
the United Nations by Chinese government officials for its work, is establishing huge tracts of rubber however.
plantations by employing forced labor and burning down forests after entire villages are forcibly relocated.
Yet even with such drastic measures, by all accounts opium cultivation increased in eastern Shan State Farmers living and planting along
last season. Meanwhile, China continues to steam ahead with the construction of eight giant dams on the the banks of the Nam lone creek,
mainstream Mekong while downstream communities anxiously question what impacts will befall them, a tributary of the Mekong, and Rice fields in Pang Peng destroyed by surging water levels on the
especially after unprecedented floods in August 2008 damaged thousands of acres of paddy farms. many other small streams which Mekong in August 2008
flow into Mekong River, suffered up to both friendship bridges
The long time lapse since our last issue is a reflection of the difficulty and danger of gathering floods and devastation to their linking the towns. A shopkeeper
information inside military-ruled Burma. This year has seen rising tensions and clashes since the State farms, particularly in Monglane, in Tachilek at the time Downstream communities and
Peace and Development Council (SPDC) announced that it will hold elections in 2010 and started Pang Peng, Nam Khin, Kawkawn, bemoaned: “The authorities governments have called for
pressuring ceasefire armies to surrender their weapons. After a sham referendum in 2008 most remain Seinlon and Pa Liao villages. haven’t done anything about the China to be more transparent
mistrustful of the regime. Open shoot-outs on the Mekong among drug gangs and militias are also not situation here. At least the Thai about the operation of sluice gates
uncommon. Yet we remain committed to gathering information and stories from local people so that their Many newly planted rice fields government has some emergency on upstream dams and impacts
situation can be understood. were covered with mud and measures in place, but we don’t downstream, as well as for the
damaged. Villagers were unable to have such things in Burma.” improvement to a flood warning
We hope that readers will plant again for they had no more system. Villagers along the
seriously consider the impacts seedlings and there was no Countless paddy fields along Mekong in Burma, however, will
of the destructive and assistance available for a new both banks of the Mae Sai River most likely be the last to benefit
unsustainable pattern of crop. “We just finished planting were damaged, some as far from such a system.
development unfolding in the rice a few weeks ago. The inland as 13 kilometers on the
Burma’s Mekong region. We seedlings have all died under the Burma side. Some fields in For more information about the
urge you to join us in searching water now. The water reached 17 Chiang Rai province in Thailand Mekong and dam plans, please see
for ways in which all those that kilometers from the bank of were still flooded nearly a www.savethemekong.org
rely on the Mekong can benefit Mekong” said one villager from month later.
equally from development
projects within their countries
Tachilek. “We just finished
Although China denies that the
and be protected from The rising waters also affected the August flooding was caused by planting the rice
disproportionate negative town of Tachilek. The Mekong its dams upstream, villagers in
impacts across borders. backed up and into the Mae Sai both Burma and Thailand have a few weeks ago.
The future of our Mekong River on the Thailand/Burma been reporting unseasonal
depends on it. border causing the high level to flooding and unprecedented The seedlings
Awv bon ui _ javmeh_
overflow the bridge on August
17th. Border checkpoints between
fluctuations in water levels in
recent years and are worried
have all died
Thank you from LNDO Tachilek in Burma and Mae Sai in
Thailand were shut from August
about changes to the river due to
the dams (See Undercurrents
under the water
17-20 when the water level rose Issue 2). now...”
Undercurrents Issue 3 21