Mandalay marble miners protest planned wildlife sanctuary

Marble miners have hit back against a bid to establish a wildlife sanctuary that they say could close down one of the country’s major export industries.

The Yatkansintaung religious association is advocating for quarries to be closed and replaced by a wildlife reserve, while the Myanmar Federation of Mining Associations (MFMA) says the mines in Madaya township produce the world’s finest marble.

Ko Win Htwe, secretary for the local religious association, said his group has sent 17 letters of complaint to the government, including to President U Thein Sein. A planned press conference has been delayed until after the election, he said.

“Within the next week, we will submit another letter to the chief minister and protest again.”

Local groups have been at loggerheads with miners for two years because of the noise of drilling near to a pagoda and a 16-bed hospital, and the industry’s environmental impact.

Many hope the area will become a wildlife sanctuary after Forestry Minister U Win Tun said he would stop granting mining concessions and create a 3000 acre forestry reserve.

Yatkansintaung has 13 marble production sites, each employing between 50 and 100 workers, including local farmers, said the mining federation.

“Some companies have 15 one- or two-year production contracts, others are awaiting permits. Local farmers work in the mines during off-season,” said U Aung Khaing Than, Mandalay chair for MFMA.

“Declaring Yatkansintaung a wildlife sanctuary would benefit nobody. We already have production approval from the Myanmar Investment Commission.”

Mandalay regional mining minister U Than Soe Myint said that no decision had yet been taken. “The forest would have to meet the standards of the Ministry of Forestry. The matter is still under review,” he said.

U Aung Khaing Than, who owns a calcium carbonate factory, said Myanmar currently imports the material, which is also used in the production of cement, paper and paints.

“Placing restraints on marble production is not appropriate,” he said, adding that mining products could be exported. Five marble mining companies operate in the area, and each site can produce 1500-2000 tonnes, according to Ministry of Mines officials.

“China imports 56pc of the world’s production,” said mining technician U Zaw Win.

“Myanmar has the best marble in the world, and extraction techniques do not impact the environment. Myanmar has great potential in the marble industry.”

The 3000-acre Yatkansintaung site covers the villages of Shwe Gone Tine, Shwe Done, Shwe Bayat, Latpyansin, Watpaung, Hnget Sar, Kaut Yot Pone and Nga Eain Htaung.

The area also has considerable religious significance.

Speaking at a press conference in Mandalay last September, Yatkansintaung sayadaw U Panyarthiri said, “Yatkansintaung is a religious area. Their production makes so much noise we can’t carry out our religious work peacefully. It disturbs our meditation.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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