By KARENNI THU / KANTARAWADDY TIMES
Local politicians and environmental activists in Karenni (Kayah) State have expressed concern about the Union government’s approval of a tungsten refinery now under construction in Loikaw Township.
The refinery, which is a joint venture of a Chinese corporation and a company operated by an ethnic armed group, was approved by Burma’s Investment Commission after being recommended by the state government.
Critics say, however, that opposition to the project has been ignored and that the authorities failed to consult with local people or publish an environmental impact assessment before allowing it to go ahead.
“Many people opposed this refinery, but some parliamentarians and government officials backed the investment company’s bid to open it. I think they [the government and the company] may have made some kind of deal,” MP Thae Reh told Kantarawaddy Times.
According to Thae Reh, the government offered no information or assurances about environmental protections. He added that the refinery, which is being built in Industrial Zone 2 in the village of Nwar Lawoe, should not be located so close to a populated area.
Another MP, Dr. Khin Si Thu, also suggested that there were irregularities in the way the government has handled the approval process.
“I don’t have all the details, but everybody knows that an ethnic armed organization is involved in this project. And yet, the [state] government gave permission for it. This is corruption,” said Dr. Khin Si Thu.
The refinery is being built by Global South Industrial Co., Ltd., a joint venture of China-based Hunan Global South Industrial Co., Ltd. and Yadanar Kaday Theik Co., Ltd., which is based in Karenni State.
Ko Kyaw Htin Aung, a board member of Loikaw-based civil society organization LAIN, said that the state government recommended the project to the Union government without consulting with members of the public first.
“The state government sent the proposal for this project to the Union government and recommended it without taking public opinion into account. That’s how it got approved. Now, with the permission of the Investment Commission, the investment company has a green light to operate the refinery,” Ko Kyaw Htin Aung told Kantarawaddy Times.
The refinery will process raw tungsten from mines in Mawchi in Karenni State, the Kasan area of southern Shan State’s Hpekon Township, and the Dawei area of Tanintharyi Region.
The Karenni State government reported that the refinery would use advanced technology to avoid harming the environment. It also said that the company would employ local people for non-technical positions.
The refinery is being built on 113 acres of land purchased from local people. The company reportedly paid 8,000,000 kyat (US$5,235) per acre for the land.