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Mong Kok (Mai Khot) coal mine and power station, Shan State, Myanmar


Description:

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 [1]. 

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 [1]. 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 [1]. The coal power plant appeared first in Thailand’s Power Development Plan in March 2010 [1] 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 [4].

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 [1]. 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 [1]. Armed intimidation and secrecy marked the early project development, stated the report [1]. 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) [4].

According to Hark Mong Kok [1], 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 [1]. 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 [1]. 

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 [1]. 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” [1]. Deforestation to clear the project area has caused related wildlife loss [1].

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 [1]. 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 [1]. 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 [1]. In July 2009, Thai villagers wrote a complaint letter to the Thai National Human Rights Commission and the Thailand Lawyer’s Council [1]. A public discussion by local Thai authorities, academics and activists followed in July 2010 [8]. The discussion was held at Mae Fah Luang University and was attended by the Chiang Rai Deputy Governor [1]. In August 2010, more protests were held by community leaders and the Thai actress Preeyanuch Parnpradap, documented the report [1]. 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 [1]. 

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 [1]. According to Sourcewatch.org, the Italian-Thai company said in their 2015 annual report that it was debating its investment into the power station [6]. The project was not mentioned anymore in the company’s 2016 annual report and appeared to be abandoned [6]. 

While the project was stalled for several years due to the strong social protests [4], 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. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Mong Kok (Mai Khot) coal mine and power station, Shan State, Myanmar
Country:Myanmar
State or province:Shan State
Location of conflict:Mong Kok/Mai Khot
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Thermal power plants
Coal extraction and processing
Land acquisition conflicts
Deforestation
Logging and non timber extraction
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Land
Coal
Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The coal mine and power plant project is located in Mong Kok, about 40 km north of the Thai border. Mong Kok is sometimes also spelled Mong Khoke, and also known as Mai Khot [1,6].

The coal-fired power plant:

According to the 2011 “Save Mong Kok from Coal” report [1], the Italian-Thai Power Company Ltd. was granted a permission to construct a 405 MW coal power plant, based on 3 units of 135 MW each. 369 MW would be sold to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) over a period of 25 years. 80 km of 230 kV power lines would be built to send the electricity to Chiang Rai province in Thailand. According to Sourcewatch.org, EGAT expected the plant to generate up to 15,000 MW of electricity power over 20 years of operation [6].

The coal mine:

According to the 2011 “Save Mong Kok from Coal” report [1], the coal deposit consists of 120 million tons of lignite coal, located in a 30 km2 (3,000 ha) area. A concession to extract 5,000 tons of coal per day for export to Thailand (1.5 million tons/year) was granted to the Italian-Thai subsidiary Saraburi Coal Co., Ltd. Coal would be extracted through an open-pit mine.

Frontier Myanmar reported that the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation is also involved in the project [11].

No information on the investment size of the coal mine and the power plant could be found. For the construction of the transmission line, it was reported that in 2011, the Thai government had approved a budget of 2,740 million Baht [7].

Project area:3000 ha (coal deposit area)
Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:several thousands
Start of the conflict:2007
Company names or state enterprises:Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited (Italthai) from Thailand
Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) from Myanmar
Saraburi Coal Co. Ltd from Thailand - developer
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) (EGAT) from Thailand
Relevant government actors:Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC)
Minister of Electricity and Energy
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC)
Department of Mines
and others
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Hark Monk Kok (Love Mong Kok), [email protected]
Toward Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), (Thailand), http://www.terraper.org/web/en
Shan Human Rights Foundation, http://www.shanhumanrights.org/
and others

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
ethnic Shan, Lahu and Akha [1].
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Mine tailing spills
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Potential: Malnutrition
Other Health impactsExposure to pollution from coal mining and burning
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsPotential decline in tourism along the Kok River [1].
Internally displaced people (IDPs) will be unable to return home [4].

Outcome

Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Migration/displacement
Repression
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
Compensation was far too little to replace the damages [1].
The road project to transport the coal through Mae Fuh Lang was cancelled [1].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Social mobilizations achieved to stall the project for several years. However, recently, it seems that the project has resumed.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

2012 Environmental Conservation Law
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs15/2012-environmental_conservation_law-PH_law-09-2012-en.pdf

1994 Myanmar Mines Law
https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/73051/74522/F234335194/MMR73051.pdf

2015 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Procedure
http://www.myanmar-responsiblebusiness.org/resources/environmental-impact-assessment-procedures.html

2012 Foreign Investment Law
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs15/Foreign_Investment_Law-21-2012-en.pdf

2014 Myanmar Electricity Law
http://www.myanmar-law-library.org/law-library/laws-and-regulations/laws/myanmar-laws-1988-until-now/union-solidarity-and-development-party-laws-2012-2016/myanmar-laws-2014/pyidaungsu-hluttaw-law-44-2014-the-electricity-law-burmese.html

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[2] The Nation, 02 June 2012 "Energy-sector delegation to visit Myanmar" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/business/Energy-sector-delegation-to-visit-Myanmar-30183352.html

[9] 2017 REPORT "Coal: a Public Health Crisis in Myanmar". Published by Greenpeace, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Earthrights International, Alarm, Myanmar Green Network, 2017. (accessed online 29.06.2018).
http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/Press-Centre/publications/Myanmar-Coal-Report-2017/

[4] Update by the Shan Human Rights Foundation, 30 August 2017 "As conflict escalates in Shan State, aid must not be cut off to Shan-Thai border refugees" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
http://www.shanhumanrights.org/eng/images/2017/PDF/08-30-2017-Shan-refugee-update_-English.pdf

[6] Sourcewatch.org entry on "Mai Khot power station" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Mai_Khot_power_station

[8] The Irrawaddy, 25 July 2011 "Burma Coal Mine Spells Disaster for Environment" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
http://www2.irrawaddy.com/article.php?art_id=21757&Submit=Submit

[1] Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" Report published by Hark Mong Kok in July 2011. (accessed online 05.07.2018).
http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf

[10] PYO and KAN 2011 "Poison Clouds: Lessons from Burma's largest coal project at Tigyit". Pa-Oh Youth Organization (PYO) and Kyoju Action Network (KAN). (accessed online 11.06.2018).
http://burmacampaign.org.uk/images/uploads/PoisonClouds.pdf

[3] Oxford Business Group "Changing priorities: Coal is set to take a greater share of the country’s energy mix" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/analysis/changing-priorities-coal-set-take-greater-share-country%E2%80%99s-energy-mix

[5] Mizzima, 25 July 2011 "Local people protest coal mining in eastern Shan State" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
http://mizzimaenglish.blogspot.com/2011/07/local-people-protest-coal-mining-in.html

[11] Frontier Myanmar, 29 November 2017 "The borderline Shan: Anxious and facing hunger" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
https://frontiermyanmar.net/en/the-borderline-shan-anxious-and-facing-hunger

[7] TERRA Briefing paper, 15 October 2013 "Public Forum on Ethics of Thailand Investment in Myanmar's Power Sector" (accessed online 05.07.2018).
http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/th/PageFiles/377529/public-forum-on-ethics-of-Thailand-investment-in-Myanmars-power-sector.pdf

Other documents

Cover of the civil society report Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/a_Report_cover.png

Construction alongside villagers' daily activities Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/a_construction_along_villagers_daily_activities.png

Road construction through a Lahu village Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/a_road_through_lahu_village.png

Meta information

Contributor:EJatlas Southeast Asia Team (ejatlas.asia"at"gmail.com)
Last update05/07/2018

Images

 

Cover of the civil society report

Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf

Road construction through a Lahu village

Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf

Construction alongside villagers' daily activities

Hark Mong Kok, 2011 "Save Mong Kok from coal" http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs11/save_mong_kok_from_coal_eng.pdf-red.pdf