Plans to expand a coal-fired cement plant in Tharzi district, Mandalay, have provoked opposition by villagers and civil society groups. The project entails not only the expansion of the cement factory, but also an adjunct limestone quarry and a coal mine in Kalewa, operated by the firm to exclusively supply the factory with raw materials . The project is developed by the Shwe Taung Group (STG), whose majority shareholder Aik Htun is a controversial figure. He is believed to be linked to the former military regime, to narcotics trade and to money laundering, according to an open letter sent by a civil society coalition opposing the project [see 1]. Funding for the coal-fired cement factory comes from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private arm of the World Bank . While the World Bank pledged not to finance coal-power plants for Myanmar’s national grid due to their devastating health, environmental and climate impacts , the Bank accepts – with surprise for civil society organizations - the use of coal power for Myanmar’s cement factories [1,3].
The company began operations in 2010 , close to Kyubin village, where multiple indigenous communities live. In an open letter , civil society organizations have reported that locals are concerned about the project’s impacts. Several disputes have emerged, caused for instance by the bulldozing of farmland without prior notice and inadequate compensation procedures. Juridical harassment against villagers who complain about their land and livelihood loss was also mentioned . According to the letter, villagers reported that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had serious shortcomings - some stated that a merely “5 minutes question and answer” session was held . Health and environmental impacts from the expansion of the coal mine and the factory were expected to be high. They include pollution of lands and water bodies, deforestation, habitat destruction, livelihood loss and potential cultural impacts in the surrounding area . Both the coal mine and the limestone quarry are in areas classified as a Critical Habitat in the IFCs’ Environmental and Social Review Summary, informs the letter . After the factory’s expansion, villagers complained about skin diseases which they attribute to the dust from the cement factory . The use of coal and the IFC’s support to the expansion plans have been major points of contention among civil society groups, who “emphasize the sheer irresponsibility of this investment and the multiple ways it undermines the IFC’s commitment to sustainable investment and ‘shared prosperity’ through private sector development” .
Land disputes in the area have been ongoing for decades, says a news article . Already in 1983, land was seized by the government and in 2008 several private companies were given land to develop cement factories, taking advantage of the nearby limestone hills. In 2012, in the context of new political freedoms, activists started to campaign for the return of their land . Complaint letters were sent and national civil society organizations such as MATA (Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability) got involved. Attempts to settle the disputes between the company and the villagers followed and several public meetings were organized. Controversies, however, remained .
On June 7, 2017, a coalition of 174 civil society organizations sent an open letter to the IFC, urging the Board to reject funding for this project . The letter expressed concerns over the extraction and burning of large amounts of coal through the controversial Shwe Taung Cement Factory: “The IFC Board should refuse funding for an environmentally destructive coal-reliant project in a critical biodiversity area, which has caused immense social problems at the local level, and only serves to enrich a businessman with known ties to the former military regime and suspected connections to the narcotics trade. The IFC's reputation, and the people of Myanmar, deserve better.” 
In a response, the IFC backed the project and the EIA consultations, arguing the project would help to meet the growing demand for raw materials for construction and, moreover, provide 200 jobs . On July 31, 2017 the project received green light by the IFC, although the US representative and executive director voted against it because of environmental concerns, such as impacts on endangered species and lack of emission data . IFC Investment began on January 4, 2018 .