The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

Kachins Suspect Russian Company Drilling Uranium
By AYE LAE Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Residents in Burma's northern Kachin State are unhappy with an agreement between the Burmese’s military government and a Russian company to mine for gold and other minerals, according to Kachin sources.

Miners sift for gold in Hukuang Valley, Kachin State. (Photo: KDNG)
The state-run media reported Saturday that Russian company Victorious Glory International Pte Ltd had signed an agreement with Burmese officials to search for minerals along the Uru River between Phakant in Kachin State and Homalin in Sagaing Division.

Although the report did not elaborate on the details of the agreement, observers pointed out that the Russian drilling company already started operations early last year. Awng Wa, leader of the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), told The Irrawaddy by phone on Tuesday: "The junta says the Russian company is searching for gold and other minerals. What are the other minerals? We suspect it is uranium.” 

Russia supplies Burma with arms, and Rosatom, the Russian federal atomic energy agency, signed a deal last May to build a nuclear research center in Burma.

In the early 2000s, the Burmese regime confirmed publicly that uranium deposits had been found in five areas: Magwe, Taungdwingyi, Kyaukphygon, and Kyauksin and Paongpyin in Mogok Township. The exploration also extended to southern Tenasserim Division. Residents of Thabeikkyin Township, 96 km (60 miles) north of Mandalay, said they believed there to be a uranium refinery at Thabeikkyin on the Irrawaddy River.

According to KDNG, areas along the Uru River in Burma's northwestern Sagaing Division and northern Kachin State are rich in natural resources, including large quantities of gold. These resources, however, are not benefiting the local residents, but principally the military authorities and a handful of businessmen and companies, it said.

"The Chinese are playing a central role in gold mining," a resident in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, said. "Smalls scale miners, desperate to scrape a living, reap at least some benefit from selling their gold into the hands of Chinese middlemen."

The regime has been selling large mining concessions to selected companies in Hukawng Valley in Kachin State since 2002. The regime’s Ministry of Mining collects large signing-on fees for the concessions, as well as 35 to 50 percent tax on annual profits. Additional payments are rendered to the military’s top commander for the region and various township and local authorities, as well as the Minister of Mining himself. 

Furthermore, a report on gold mining practices by the Chiang Mai-based Pan Kachin Development Society pointed out the gold mines’ impact on public health. It noted that mercury and cyanide were getting into the human food chain.

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