A four-day regional development workshop responding to the challenges posed by drugs and environmental degradation— identified by contributors as the main issues plaguing the region – has concluded in Tachileik, eastern Shan State.
Villagers from nine local townships attended the meeting, where they were able to voice their own concerns.
Nang Leik, of Kengtung, worries that a local Thai-run coal mine will impact heavily on small farmers.
“The coal mine will affect our paddy fields,” she said.
“We can’t allow them to continue the project. The areas they are planning to mine are in our paddy fields. When they start, our paddy fields will be destroyed. We will have to move our paddy fields as well as our houses. The township administrator doesn’t take any responsibility, despite the fact that his villages are also affected.”
“The operators have ignored the local people in decision making,” she added. “We will be forced to demonstrate in public if they continue with the project.”
Shan National Progressive Party member Thein Aung agrees that land tenure is a pressing concern, but believes that town workshops provide a better alternative to holding demonstrations.
“Instead of getting out on the streets to protest issues, we can send the results of these workshops to parliamentarians,” he said. “We can discuss and share our views so that the end results are clear. I would like to urge party leaders and NGOs to hold similar workshops in future.”
Ko Moe, a member of nationwide civil society group New Generation, highlighted a lack of governmental control over illicit drugs and gambling as a serious concern.
“Parliamentarians acknowledge the relationship between illegal drugs and gambling, but there are still many gambling and drug dens in places like Taunggyi, where the government has a strong presence,” Ko Moe said.
“How can these things be controlled?” he added. “These are the questions for the Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as the State government and Union government.”
Villagers at the meeting suggested that a lack of government accountability is endemic to the region and contributes to controversy over land ownership.
“If the government doesn’t follow the rule of law there will be further land confiscation problems,” Ko Moe said.
“Mining companies come in and operate in fields belonging to famers who can’t necessarily prove their ownership. The government marks such land as vacant, which is not correct.”
A similar town workshop was held in the first week of May in Lashio. A Shan State-wide workshop will be held in Taunggyi during the last week of this month.