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Plans for a cement factory in Burma’s southeastern Karen State met with stark opposition from local communities on Monday.
The project, planned for Mekaren [Mi Kayin] village in Hpa-an, was proposed by the regional government and the Karen National Union (KNU).
Representatives of the KNU and state officials met with members of the community on 28 April to make an initial pitch for the project, which they said would be built by Chinese-owned Myanmar Jidong Cement Company Ltd (MJCCL).
The KNU reached an initial agreement with MJCCL in March. Karen State Writers Association member Mahn Htet Khine, present at Monday’s meeting, said most local people showed opposition to the plan, citing environmental damage and fear of land loss as two primary concerns.
“The KNU said the company will ensure minimal impact to the environment by using modern technology and pledging to improve roads,” said Mahn Htet Khine, “but the majority of the villagers refused to sign an agreement [indicating approval].”
Most of those who oppose the plan live near the proposed site, working as farmers and making a living by collecting wood and roots on nearby forested hills.
Saw Khin Maung Myint, transportation minister for the Karen State government, said the disapproval expressed on Monday was not final and that an official survey should be conducted to better gauge public opinion.
“Some of those who objected to the plan had valid reasons, but there were others with a hidden agenda – we urged village leaders and local monks to conduct a survey to precisely work out how many people object to this,” he said.
“Building the factory would be beneficial for Karen State and the country at large, as it will save money on imported cement,” he added. “We have to gauge pros and cons – the mountains will disappear if the project goes ahead, but it will boost urban development in the area.
“Just picking roots and mushrooms on the hill won’t damage the environment, but also it won’t bring any progress for people’s lives.”
The meeting was attended by representatives from MJCCL, Phyo Naing Soe Company, KNU officials and Karen State government ministers Saw Khin Maung Myint, Saw Kyi Linn and Saw Law La.
In 2013, the Myanmar Cement and Mineral Production Company proposed a similar bid to build a factory in Mekaren village, but backed out following ardent objection from the local community.