A new report from the Kachin Development Network Group (KDNG) alleges that the Burma Army’s seizure of Kachin State’s Hukawng Valley is a move toward pushing communities out of the amber-rich area.
“Blood Amber” was launched this week at a press conference at the Orchid Hotel in Yangon after two years of research, including interviews with locals living near amber mines in Tanai Township, businessmen, religious leaders, and representatives of local community-based organizations. It details how the government approved permits for companies to pursue amber extraction in Tanai last year, despite widespread displacement and ongoing conflict.
“Amber is one of the most precious stones, but people are trying to get it through bloodshed. This is a place where blood has been shed. It’s full of tears,” KDNG’s Tsa Ji said.
Because of the major demand for amber in neighboring China, tens of thousands of people from across Burma migrated to the Hukawng Valley between 2011 and 2016, seeking work in the area’s mines.
According to the KDNG report, the Burma Army distributed thousands of leaflets in early June 2017 warning all migrant workers to leave Tanai’s amber and gold mines “as soon as possible,” lest they are recognized as soldiers from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Fighting between the KIA and the Tatmadaw in the area began that month, lasting until October 2018.
KDNG reports that thousands of local Kachin people and migrant workers were forced to leave the villages Nambyu Nam Hkam, N’ga Ga, Wailaw, Htang Bra, and Nam Gawn because of armed conflict.
“We won’t let all people know that this is our inherited land. We already sent a petition to the government but we haven’t got an exact answer until today,” Lu Seng, a resident of Nambyu Nam Hkam village, said in the Yangon press conference, referring to a letter from more than 360 families signed in October 2018 and stating their desire to return home. “The army repeatedly launched military offensives in the area. I feel that they are abusing our Kachin land,” Lu Seng added.
Amber extraction in Tanai started in June 2018, after parliamentarians from the area asked the government to issue extraction licenses for amber and gold mining.
“The NLD [National League for Democracy] government is completely wrong because they issued extraction licenses for amber mining blocks; indigenous people are fleeing from their land and becoming IDPs [internally displaced people],” KDNG’s Tsa Ji said.
Those who have fled Tanai have been unable to return to their villages, and have sought refuge in a church IDP camp as unregistered displaced people.
“We are taking care of them as much as we can. They are not recognized as registered IDPs, so they don’t get assistance from the international community,” Sara Naw Tawng of the Tanai Catholic church told KNG. “Only locally based churches have provided food to them. They are still waiting for their return home.”
Locals continue to be worried about the loss of their property due to regional instability and the issuing of extraction licenses to dig for amber on their land.