The Mong Kok (also referred to as Mai Khot) coal mine and power station is a project proposed in eastern Shan State Myanmar in an area where Shan, Lahu and Akha farmers have been living for generations based on traditional farming and fishing practices. The project, initiated with the aim to export both coal and electricity to Thailand, has provoked vast concerns over its social and environmental impacts in both Shan State, Myanmar, as well as neighboring Chiang Rai province, Thailand .
Following an agreement between the Italian-Thai Power Company and the Burmese military to develop the coal mine and power plant, the company Saraburi Coal Ltd. (a subsidiary of Italian-Thai Power) began coal surveying activities in Mong Kok in 2007. In April 2008, the company received the concession for lignite mining and export to Thailand . In November 2009, the Thai government approved the Tariff Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of the Mong Kok project, under which the Italian-Thai company and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) would develop the 405 MW coal-fired power plant, of which most electricity would be exported to Thailand . The coal power plant appeared first in Thailand’s Power Development Plan in March 2010  and was supposed to start operations in 2017 [2,3]. However, as described below, the project was stalled for several years because of strong public opposition .
The project provoked increased militarization of the area, documented a civil society group. According to a report published in 2011 by the group Hark Mong Kok (meaning Love Mong Kok), the Burmese army set up bases in Mong Kong since 2000 . Many villagers were reportedly persecuted and tortured in 2007, when the Burmese military accused them of supporting the Shan State Army (SSA) [1,5]. Following the plans for the coal mine and the power plant, a growing number of troops were stationed in the area to secure the site . Armed intimidation and secrecy marked the early project development, stated the report . About half of the 2,000 original Shan, Akha and Lahu inhabitants fled to Thailand in fear of further abuses [1,5]. If the project would move forward, the internally displaced people (IDPs) would be unable to return home, states the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) .
According to Hark Mong Kok , the project`s impacts on the ground intensified in January 2011, when local Burmese army commanders called for several meetings with villagers to order them to measure their land and to sell it to the Italian-Thai company for 20,000 kyat (approx. 20 USD) per acre. All residents (over 80 families) of three villages in the south of Mong Kok (Kok Tai, Kok Kang and Wan Weng) were ordered to move north to new settlement areas that would be built for them. However, no farmland was available at the new site, documented the report . News article stated that about 20 villages south of Mogok were forcefully relocated in March 2011 to make way for the project [2,6]. Trucks loaded with construction material reportedly arrived in April 2011 and the Saraburi Coal/Italian Thai companies set up a compound in Mong Kong to start exploration activities, road construction and land clearing for the power plant development .
If developed, the project would ravage a pristine valley, poison the Kok River and impact countless Shan and northern Thai communities downstream, argued the civil society report . Severe concerns over potential health impacts have emerged among local populations due to potential water, soil and air pollution from mine tailings and fly-ash piles (particularly from toxic substances such as mercury, lead, arsenic, chromium and cadmium) which were observed with other coal mines and power plants [1,7,8,9,10]. Thai environmental activists have also expressed concerns over greenhouse gases released by the project [5,8]. The construction of the transmission power lines to Thailand would further deforest a 40-meter-wide corridor, “causing thousands of acres of farmlands and forest to be cleared on both sides of the border” . Deforestation to clear the project area has caused related wildlife loss .
Mobilizations by villagers and environmental groups against the project emerged both in Thailand and Shan State, Myanmar [1,5]. The local Shan group Hark Mong Kok launched a campaign against the project. As part of their campaign, the above cited report “Save Mong Kok from Coal” was published in July 2011, which described the actual and potential future impacts of the project . In Thailand, protests started when the company Saraburi Coal Co Ltd. began to develop a coal-transport road through Mae Fah Luang, northern Chiang Rai province . The prospect of 200 ten-wheel trucks a day passing through the area to transport coal provoked fears of air pollution, congestion, noise and esthetic degradation of the Kok River - an area well-known as a scenic tourist destination . In July 2009, Thai villagers wrote a complaint letter to the Thai National Human Rights Commission and the Thailand Lawyer’s Council . A public discussion by local Thai authorities, academics and activists followed in July 2010 . The discussion was held at Mae Fah Luang University and was attended by the Chiang Rai Deputy Governor . In August 2010, more protests were held by community leaders and the Thai actress Preeyanuch Parnpradap, documented the report . Demonstrations followed also in front of the Chiang Rai Provincial Office. The Local Thai Association submitted a letter of protest about the road to the provincial governor and the Deputy Chair of House of Representatives .
A victory for the opponents was achieved in May 2011, when Saraburi Coal Co. Ltd. announced to the Chiang Rai authorities that the road plans through Mae Fah Luang were scrapped . According to Sourcewatch.org, the Italian-Thai company said in their 2015 annual report that it was debating its investment into the power station . The project was not mentioned anymore in the company’s 2016 annual report and appeared to be abandoned .
While the project was stalled for several years due to the strong social protests , it was reported that the project has resumed since August 2017 and that villagers have been ordered to leave the area [4,11]. Given the strong resistance to the project in the past, it is likely that further mobilizations against the coal mine and power plant will mark its future development.