Villages are being flattened and farmland confiscated in the world’s largest tiger reserve in northern Burma to make way for a cash cropping venture led a powerful business tycoon.
Some 200 locals in the Hukawng Valley in Kachin state begun filing complaints to authorities and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) after the removals started.
Nearly 200,000 acres of land is being prepared for the planting of sugar cane and cassava plant to produce biofuels. The man behind the venture is Htay Myint, who is close to the Burmese government and heads the Yuzana company conglomerate, which was give the license to move in on the Hukawng Valley in 2007
The Kachin News Group reported last year that Yuzana had built around 100,000 houses in the valley for men and women working on the plantations, which are being created in what last month became the world’s largest tiger reserve and the largest protected area in Southeast Asia, and celebrated enthusiastically by the Burmese junta.
A report, ‘Tyrants, Tycoons and Tigers’, by the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), said that bulldozers had been at work in the valley, razing animal corridors and preparing land for the plantations and for a factory and supermarket to support workers and visitors.
The reserve was first highlighted in 2004 after it was discovered to be only one of three areas where tigers remain in significant numbers. Hukawng Valley is also home to a number of other rare or endangered animals, including leopards, Himalayan bears and elephants.
Locals said that Yuzana had confiscated land in seven villages in the region and compensated only 80,000 kyat (US$80) for an acre of land normally valued at 300,000 kyat (US$300). More than 160 families are so far thought to have been displaced.
“The local farmers’ houses and gardens were seized and they were moved to another location,” one woman told DVB. “Now this it’s like we can only stay where they want to keep us and do what they tell us to do. We cannot accept this, we don’t want to move.”