Mawchi tungsten (wolfram) and tin mine, Karenni state, Myanmar

The Molo Women Mining Watch Network and other civil society groups mobilized to halt the further expansion of the centuries-old Mawchi tungsten and tin mines


The history of Myanmar's Mawchi mines spans back over more than two centuries, according to a civil society report by the Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN) published in 2012 [1]. Small-scale mining activities were first carried out by locals in the early 19th century, who sold the minerals in the local town of Toungoo. When the British heard about the deposits in 1830, agreements with the local ruler of Kyepogyi were made to start tin mining in the area. The high-quality tin and tungsten (wolfram) from the mines was soon sold on world markets and the area became known as “Little England”. The British operated the mines for no less than 112 years (from 1830 to 1942). Workers from China and Nepal were brought in during that time. Over the years, the Mawchi mines turned into one of the most important sources of tungsten, globally. Between 1939-40, the mine produced 60% of total production in Burma, which accounted for about 17.4% of world tungsten output [1,2]. 

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Basic Data
NameMawchi tungsten (wolfram) and tin mine, Karenni state, Myanmar
SiteHpasawng Township, Bawlake District
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Mineral ore exploration
Tailings from mines
Specific CommoditiesTin; Tungsten (wolfram)
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe mine is operated by the Kayah State Mining Company Limited (KMPC), the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the No 2 Mining Ministry [1]. According to a pamphlet, the mine covers about 7,200 acres (ca. 2,914 ha) [5].

According to the “Lost Paradise” report, KMPC manager Ye Tun Tin was a former Burma Army officer in the mining areas, who is “notorious for abusing local people” [1, page 9].

The Karenni National Solidarity Organization (which splintered from the KNPP in 2002-3 and became a Border Guard Force (BGF) of the Burma Army) also owns a company called Kayah Ngwe Kyae, which mines in the area under the permission of UMEHL [1].

In British colonial times, there were 8 main mining sites and several hundred mining shafts. Locals and migrants also have dug their own small mines [1].

A report from Free Burma Rangers from 2016 documents that also Chinese companies operate mines in the area [7].

Nine villages are in the Mawchi area: Aunkywa, Yelar,Taungpaungywa, Lerkhalo, Saethongon, Bulawbel, Kawdudoe, Zeepinkwit and Saechautgon [1].

In 2012, the estimated local population was at 4,445 people, plus 3,715 migrant workers (total: 8,150 people). About 60% of the population were estimated to be women [1].

(Note: Date of the conflict start is unknown. 2012 is indicated because of the launch of the civil society report during that year and related recent mobilizations).
Project Area (in hectares)2,914
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population8,150 (local population)
Start Date2012
Company Names or State EnterprisesNo. 2 Mining Enterprise ME2 (ME2) from Myanmar
Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (UMEHL) from Myanmar
Kayah State Mining Company Limited (KMPC) (KMPC) from Myanmar - mines operator
Kayah Ngwe Kyae Company from Myanmar - mines operator
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation [MONREC]

Department of Mines

and others
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersMolo Women Mining Watch Network - formed by women from the Karenni Women’s Organization, Karenni Social Welfare and Development Centre and Karenni Evergreen Organization, who wanted to research information about the Mawchi tin mines.

Karenni Civil Society Network (KCSN)

Karenni Social Development Center (KSDC)

Karenni Youth Union

and others
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingArtisanal miners
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Religious groups
ethnic Paku Karen
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition
Otherlung and skin diseases; exposure to mining waste in soil and water bodies
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseMigration/displacement
Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The mining area is under expansion despite the adverse impacts on locals, as reported by locals
Sources and Materials

1994 Myanmar Mines Law
[click to view]

2012 Environmental Conservation Law
[click to view]

2014 Environmental Conservation Rules
[click to view]

2012 Foreign Investment Law
[click to view]

2015 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Procedure
[click to view]


[1] Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012. "Lost Paradise: Damaging impact of Mawchi tin mines in Burma's Karenni State". Published on December 11, 2012. (accessed online 19.09.2018).
[click to view]

[2] U Khin Zaw et al. 1983. A note on a fluid inclusion study of tin-tungsten mineralization at Mawchi Mine, Kayah State, Burma. Economic Geology(1983), 78 (3):530.
[click to view]


[3] Joint Press Release, October 3, 2013, by the Molo Women Mining Watch Network and Karenni Civil Society Network. (accessed online 19.09.2018).
[click to view]

[4] The Myanmar Times, 22 October 2015. "Mawchi mines to reopen following deadly landslide". (accessed online 19.09.2018).
[click to view]

[5] Pamphlet, 2013 "Mining in conflict zones: a new form of military offensive". (accessed online 19.09.2018).
[click to view]

[6] Karenni Social Development Center (KSDC) on the Mawchi Mine. (accessed online 19.09.2018).
[click to view]

[7] Free Burma Rangers, Maw Chee Mining Report, 26 February 2016. (accessed online 19.09.2018).
[click to view]

Media Links

RFA (Burmese) Mawchi Mine Working Condition
[click to view]

RFA (Burmese) Maw Chi workers lack proper healthcare
[click to view]

Up side down (Directed By Aung Thu, Edited By Saw Lay Bwe Mu. Shot in the days following the Mawchi Mine Landslide, this film examines the weakness in the disaster response systems in place)
[click to view]

Other Documents

Cover of the civil society report Source: Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012.
[click to view]

Women collecting tin Source: Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012.
[click to view]

landslides (before 2012) Source: Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012.
[click to view]

Polluted streams Source: Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012.
[click to view]

Molo Chaung River Source: Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012.
[click to view]

Mining sites Source: Molo Women Mining Watch Network (MWMWN), 2012.
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorEJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update08/10/2018