Monday, 18 November 2019

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Railway ‘to abet junta’s war in Shan State’

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A new railway in eastern Shan State is stoking fear of renewed heavy fighting between the Burmese military and ethnic armies.

railway-shan1Two Shan rights groups have demanded that authorities halt construction of the Mong Nai-Kengtung railway, denouncing it as an expansion of the regime’s war apparatus in Shan State.

The Shan Women’s Action Network (Swan) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) made the assertion on Tuesday at a press conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The railway will enable the rapid deployment of tanks, heavy artillery and foodstuffs into the region in the event of an offensive against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), SHRF spokesman Pin Kham said.
Both the UWSA and SSA-S are resisting pressure by the junta to bring their troops under Burmese Army command within its Border Guard Force.

“Early last year, when tanks and artillery forces tried to deploy along the east bank of the Salween River, the plan failed. It’s difficult to send tanks and howitzers from Namshan, on the west bank … to Kengtung, on the east bank of the river,” Pin Kham said.

Surveying of the projected 226-mile (364-kilometre) route commenced in July last year. The route is to pass through Lai-Hka, Mong Pan, Mong Tong, Mong Hsat and Mong Kok.

As happened with the construction of the Taunggyi-Namshan road and Namshan-Mong Nai road and rail lines, the Mong Nai-Kengtung connection will be militarily strategic, SSA-S spokesperson Major Lao Hsai commented.

“If [Burmese Army] battalions from Namshan and Mong Hsat want to go to the battlefront, the existing motor routes are not enough, that is why the Mong Nai-Kengtung railway is being constructed,” he added.

Kengtung is located between the southern and northern parts of Wa territory.

In 2002, the Burmese Army transported heavy artillery from its Eastern Command in Taunggyi to the Kengtung-based Triangle Region Command via road in order to attack SSA-S units located in Loikaw. The journey encountered many difficulties, Lao Hsai said.   

The rail line will also pass through the Mong Kok coalfields, site of a planned joint business operation between the Burmese military and Thai companies, Swan and the SHRF said. It is estimated the railway could allow for the export of millions of tons of lignite, a soft brown coal used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation.

A report released yesterday by the activist groups said a joint venture planned to build a coal-fired power plant for export of coal and electricity to Thailand, and that there would be high social and environmental price for the railway.

“Thousands of local villagers are being forcibly relocated to make way for the mining project, which will have severe toxic impacts on the local environment and the Kok River, which flows through northern Thailand,” the report said.

Activists also allege that 1,000 and 2,000 acres of farmland have already been confiscated in Mong Nai and Kengtung, respectively, in anticipation of the project’s completion.

The report said: “When farmers went to complain to the local authorities, they were told that the railway was an ‘army project’ and anyone resisting would end up in prison.” 

Before 1988, Burma maintained only 1,976 miles (3,180 kilometres) of railway, a figure that has since jumped to 3,335 miles (5,368 kilometres), according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper. 


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