Industrial gold mining in the hills of Mong Len in eastern Shan State has caused much concern and resistance by nearby residents. The area of Loi Kham, meaning “Golden Hills” in Shan, has been known since long for its valuable deposits. Villagers traditionally used to pan gold in the Nam Kham stream, but no large-scale mining was present until 2007. Since 2007, over ten companies have arrived and transformed the area into an extractive gold mining site, based on heavy equipment and industrial mining methods including the use of cyanide. Villagers who have been suffering from the mining activities have demanded a cancellation of the activities, the restoration of their farming lands and livelihood assets, as well as a compensation for the damages caused [1,2].
Several reports and press releases from civil society groups - the Shan State Farmers’ Network (SSFN), the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) – have documented severe impacts on the villages and the surrounding environment [1,2,3,4]. According to these reports, about 11km2 (1,100 ha) of forested hillsides have been dug up for gold mining [1,2]. The two villages located downstream the mining site, Na Hai Long and Weng Manaw with a total population of 340 people, have been most severely affected. Mining waste has blocked and polluted streams, soils and groundwater and provoked the flooding of agricultural lands. According to a report from 2015 , 168 acres (about 68 ha) of rice fields and orchards have been completely destroyed and another 130 acres (about 53 ha) have become unusable because of siltation of land and nearby water bodies. Cyanide-filled water ponds, used to separate the gold from the rocks, have been periodically drained and the toxic water has been released unfiltered into the Nam Kham stream. Consequently, villagers complain that they have lost clean water sources for drinking, bathing, washing, and the cultivation of fish and shrimps. Farm animals and fishes in the ponds have died because of toxic pollution. Health issues, such as itchy skin and other diseases have appeared among the residents [1,2]. The villagers are particularly concerned that pregnant women could be adversely affected by the toxic runoff from the mining - several babies were born with health problems and some have also died . The livelihood loss caused by the environmental and farmland degradation has provoked a series of socio-economic impacts. Poverty has been rising and some families were not able anymore to send their children to school. Some were forced to migrate to seek work outside the village [1,2,5]. Others had to rent land further away, but competition over land has also caused land conflicts .
Militarization and violent clashes in the area have increased as Border Guard Forces begun to work as security guards for the mining companies [1,2]. On October 13, 2015, Loong Sarm a resident from Na Hai Long village, was fatally shot by soldiers who were protecting the mining operations [1, see also 6]. The civil society groups explained that he was part of an unarmed group of villagers who went to monitor the mining activities in the hills above his village. The company manager of the Loi Khm Long mine warned them: “Don’t go up there or the Burmese soldiers will shoot you.” [1, page 26]. Despite of the group’s decision to return to the village, fire was opened, and the farmer was shot in his knee and badly injured. He died the same day in the hospital . (for a detailed description of the events, see 1, page 26]. Villagers and civil society groups have demanded the prosecution of the responsible soldiers . Over 300 Shan farmers from different areas came to the ceremony in Na Hai Long village to honor the shot farmer . His family tried to sue the soldiers over court, who however claimed they shot in ‘self-defense’ [3,5].
Active resistance from the community against the mining begun in 2012, when appeals to the local authorities and companies were made to stop the mining activities – however, with no result . In early 2014, villagers, together with the Shan Farmers’ Network, decided to launch a campaign to stop mining in the area. A booklet was compiled that documented the impacts and meetings with the Shan State Mining and Forestry Minister were set up to raise the villagers’ concerns on July 14, 2014 . Two days later, a press conference was held, in which the affected residents issued three demands [1,3]. First, the companies must stop their activities and remove their equipment from the area. Second, the companies must restore the fields and waterways of the villages. Third, compensation at a rate of 660,000 kyat/acre must be paid for the damaged fields. In response to communities’ demands, the Shan State Mining Minister traveled on August 5, 2014, to Tachilek to meet impacted villagers and company representatives. He subsequently ordered the companies to comply with the villagers’ demands .
Despite these orders, and after an initial halt, mining however continued . According to the civil society reports, only one of the companies, Sai Thip Co., stopped their activities, while the others continued and failed to meet the community’s demands . While some parts of the water ways and roads were restored by the companies, the efforts were not lasting. Rainfall and ongoing release of mining waste silted up again the stream. Also, some compensation was provided at the requested rate, however not for all the impacted lands and fishponds [1, see also 5]. Furthermore, the companies also attempted to divide the community. For instance, village leaders were targeted to sign letters stating they would support the mining because of the “development assistance” they had received from companies (, page 22;  page 10). Further attempts to “buy the silence of villagers” followed, explained the Shan Human Rights Foundation .
Between August 2014 and May 2015, villagers closely monitored the area through several trips to the mining sites . Meetings with the Mining Minister and Shan State government officials followed, who promised villagers that they would take action to stop them. However, on May 28, 2015, the Minister informed the villagers that he could not stop the companies because they were granted permission by the central Union government, hence, the villagers should stop “making problems” (, page 12).
No information could be found that the situation has improved since then. Villagers seem to continue struggling for protecting their rights and for holding the mining companies accountable for the damages they caused .