This news bulletin presents the compilation of villagers’ concerns from the surrounding villages of Khonkhan mountain, Sin Pyay village tract, Win Yay Township/Three Pagoda Pass sub-township, Kyainseikgyi Township regarding the quarrying of limestone from the mountain, known locally as ‘rocky mountain’, for the purpose of cement production. From January until November 2017, KHRG received a numbers of reports describing villagers concerns for the potential negative impact related to the quarrying of the rocky mountain and the proposed cement production by the Asian Falcon Company. The Asian Falcon Company has been testing the rocky mountain since March 2016 in Sin Pyay village tract, Win Yay Township after they held a direct consultation with local authorities (KNU leaders) in Win Yay Township. However, villagers did not receive clear information about the company or the proposed process and information from this consultation was not openly shared with villagers.
In January 2017, the Asian Falcon Company returned to Khonkhan rocky mountain to test the stone again. At this time, villagers from eight affected villages formed an environmental conservation committee in order to have a more effective outlet for their concerns. Despite this committee sharing villagers’ concerns and disagreements regarding the potential impact and consequences to the project, the Asian Falcon Company continued with their site visit and examination. Villagers felt that this action clearly showed that their voices and concerns were ignored and their rights to the land and local resources were not respected by the company or by local authorities who were complicit in giving permission.
Negotiation and consent
The Asian Falcon Company conducted site visits from March to December 2016 to Khonkhan rocky mountain after they negotiated with the Karen National Union (KNU) chairperson from Win Yay Township. During these site visits, the site visit team measured and tested the stone of the rocky mountain to survey for industrial mineral raw materials and the possibility of stone production. Villagers were isolated from this negotiation process and not informed of the company’s site visits. According to a villager from B--- village, Than Pa Yar, [P’Naw Kleh Hkee in Karen] village tract, Win Yay Township, Dooplaya District,
“Except knowing that the company is measuring and testing the rocky mountain I do not know any specific information about this project. They [company workers] brought the recommendation letter from Win Yin Township and conducted their site visit.”
Villagers from other villages in Win Yay Township also reported that there was no consultation or transparent sharing of information with them throughout 2016. The company received permission for their site visit after meeting with Win Yay Township leaders only.
On August 12, 2017 the company returned to the Khonkhan rocky mountain and this time held a consultation with the local villagers. Local villagers reported that during the consultation, many of the questions and concerns that they raised were not answered. For example, when a village head questioned about the Asian Falcon Company’s aim behind the measurement and examination of the rocky mountain, company workers responded that they just had to take measurements to report to the Karen State Minister Nan Khin Htway Myint and responsible leaders from Nay Pyi Taw. The company workers who attended the consultation claimed that they only held responsibility for the site visit and measurements, and therefore they could not make other decisions based on the concerns villagers raised. They confirmed only that they submitted the necessary permission letter to the local authorities in Win Yay Township for the site visit.
The permission letter that the company submitted to the Win Yay Township leaders requested permission for a mineral exploration group to conduct a survey, from October 14th to October 15th 2017. The mineral exploration group is led by the Asian Falcon Company and a field investigation group led by a director of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, under the Myanmar Department of Geological Survey and Mineral Exploration, from Nay Pyi Taw. Therefore, based on the information from the letter, villagers gathered that the project on Khonkhan rocky mountain is set to continue despite villagers withholding their consent. They reflected that the consultation that was held with villagers was not transparent or effective as they had not been informed that testing and exploration for the project would continue.
Villagers have raised their concerns about several potentially negative consequences of the stone mining and the proposed cement production, including livelihood concerns. According to local villagers in Win Yay Township,
“There are many villagers who rely on this rocky mountain [for their livelihood security].
According to one villager from B--- village, P’Naw Kleh Hkee village tract, Win Yin Township,
“Most villagers who live [in the area] surrounding the rocky mountain mainly keep plantations such as betel nut plantations and rubber plantations for their livelihood [economic subsistence]. Therefore, if this rocky mountain is removed [damaged by stone mining] and the cement industry is established, our livelihoods will be damaged. The river can also dry up. These are the main reasons we worry for our livelihoods.” 
Other villagers have also stated that the mountain is near to their drinking water source, which they predict may be disrupted by the project,
“Also there are a lot of villagers from many villages who rely on the Win Yay [also known as Win Yaw] river [which is located] nearby this rocky mountain.”
Moreover, villagers worry that the livelihood impacts may be so dramatic that it may result in their displacement from their homes,
We, local residents, are not sure when we have to move away because when the company [Asia Eagle Company] came [to conduct a survey on the rock mountain], they brought a permission letter from the KNU headquarters. We do not know whether P’doh Saw Sein Ler [secretary of the KNU Mining Department], himself came together with the company or not. They [the company] also brought a permission letter from the [Myanmar] Ministry of Mines [when they came to conduct a survey]. However, they [the company] did not explain to local residents anything about the cement factory project nor about the permission letters. Villagers were [also] not consulted during the planning stages of the Three Pagodas Pass-Thanphyu Zayet road. We have to deal with the negative impact of development projects although we did not agree to them.”
Response of local authorities
Problematically, when villagers have raised their concerns at the local level, no action has been taken as the KNU has already granted permission for testing and exploration, undermining any need for consent to be granted by the local community. According to local villagers,
“They [the company] will not get a chance to conduct a survey on the rocky mountain if the KNU headquarter/ national leader does not give permission [to the company] to conduct the survey. Due to the KNU’s permission [given to the company], villagers have to be silent [cannot resist the cement factory project].”
Therefore despite villagers concerns about their livelihood security and other potentially negative impacts, villagers rights to prior, meaningful, informed consultation and consent were not respected. Without taking villagers concerns into account, this proposed stone mining and cement production will cause a lot of serious human rights impacts including livelihood insecurity and health consequences due to water channel disruption.
After villagers found out that the Asian Falcon Company had come to examine the rocky mountain many times, they formed a Natural Conservation Committee in January 2017. The Natural Conservation Committee was formed in order to protect their community forest.
Despite exclusion from the formal permission process, villagers have worked in diverse ways to protect the rocky mountain and the community forest that grows on it, which they perceive as under threat. Villagers including village tract leaders have collectively held meetings regarding the company testing for the quarrying of the rocky mountain and the proposed cement production. As an outcome of these meetings, on March 6, 2017 they reported their collective concerns through submitting a complaint to the KNU Township leaders in Win Yay Township.
Secondly, when staff members from the Asian Falcon Company came and held one consultation meeting with villagers on August 12, 2017, the villagers also directly spoke up to explain the reasons why they do not allow the company to examine the rocky mountain for mining.
Furthermore, when local villagers gained information on October 10, 2017 via the permission letter that a site visit and sample testing would be conducted local villagers organised themselves by requesting a Karen CBO (Community Based Organisation) to advocate to the leaders and responsible people from KNU headquarters to reverse their permission and not allow the company to continue with the proposed project.
On December 6, 2017, a KHRG community member returned to the proposed project area and reported that villagers also have tried another strategy to protect their community forest on the rocky mountain. Villagers, led by a local monk, built a religious stupa on the top of the rocky mountain to make the company respect the mountain.
On January 4, 2018, a KHRG community member reported that the locally established Environmental Conservation Committee held a meeting at E--- village, Win Yay Township and set up the rules for environmental conservation and they again discussed how to find different ways to protect the rocky mountain. Around 50 participants attended this meeting including four local monks. According to the KHRG community member, villagers are determined to continue protecting their rocky mountain and community forest in many ways until the company stops their proposed project.
Local and international companies have been able to implement business enterprises more freely throughout Myanmar recently, compared to the previous government era (most notably prior to the 2012 preliminary ceasefire). According to villagers in southeast Myanmar, companies have performed their business activities on the ground with a lack of transparent Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (EIA/SIA) and low standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). Without these safeguards, only the local villagers suffer the negative consequences and human rights impacts.
The potential quarrying of Khonkhan rocky mountain in Win Yay Township, Dooplaya District by Asian Falcon Company is one of the clear examples that villagers are still at risk of their human rights being undermined by the negative impact of business activities. In this case, Khonkhan rocky mountain is one of the main resources that local villagers rely on for their livelihood, including for drinking water and forest resources from the community forest. Although villagers have tried many ways to protect their rights, their voices and concerns have continually been ignored and undermined by the local authorities providing permission to the company. Villagers’ right to FPIC and well as their human rights to life, health, work, an adequate standard of living, and the indigenous right to land, were not respected by the authorities or the company.
Local and international companies have proceeded with development projects especially business activities across KHRG operation areas of southeast Myanmar more frequently since the NLD government came to power. Across the seven locally-defined districts of southeast Myanmar, KHRG has received information about villagers concerns from the negative impact of business activities. This highlights that whilst the Myanmar government is trying to change and develop the country across many different sectors, the need remains to accommodate community-level concerns and to monitor the human rights situation effectively so that the country will be improved in-line with the necessary protections for community members on the ground.