Govt suspends controversial Banchaung coal mine

Bags of coal in Myanmar. Photo: Flickr / Kaj17
Bags of coal in Myanmar. Photo: Flickr / Kaj17

The Myanmar government has suspended operations at the 2,100-acre Banchaung coal mine in Dawei Township, Taninthayi Region, Eleven reported today.

Residents, government officials, Karen National Union leaders and members of the Tarkapaw Youth Group inspected the mine, which is operated by the Mayflower Mining Enterprise, on February 18.

“We reported our findings to the regional government on February 24, and the government decided on February 27 that the mine must be suspended until further instruction. We will inform the company soon,” said Myint Maung, the Taninthayi Region minister for natural resources and environmental conservation.

Nine villages are located in the vicinity of the mine, and control over the area is contested by the Myanmar government and the KNU.

Residents of the area around the mine have long voiced concerns that the mine poses a threat to the environment, calling particular attention to the of burning coal and waste materials and the mine’s sewage discharges. Some residents say one slag heap has been burning and emitting fumes since 2014 and that miners dump waste materials into the Banchaung River.

They also say locals suffer skin and respiratory diseases as a result of the pollution from the mine.

The minister said the group’s findings reflected the residents’ complaints.

Mayflower began operating the mine in 2012, at least on paper. East Star, a Thai company, actually conducts mining operations at three worksites through a contract with Mayflower and exports the coal to Thailand via the Hteekhee border gate.

East Star’s presence in their neighborhood also vexes locals. Some residents said they were told when the project began that only local investment in the mine would be permitted. But in reality, the Thai company has been exporting 500 tons of coal to Thailand every year since 2012. Local residents call this “stealing”.

The Myanmar government listed four reasons for the suspension of the mine: East Star is operating on the site even though Mayflower has the government contract; the lack of an initial environmental impact assessment; the burning of chemicals at slag heaps due to unsystematic disposal; and ongoing land conflicts.

The coal mine may resume once the required environmental impact assessment has been completed.

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