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Kachin farmers to Obama: Stop funding sham ‘tiger reserve’

Kachin farmers plan to present US President Barack Obama with a petition on Monday demanding that the US government cease funding the Hugawng Tiger Reserve in Kachin State, which they say is just a front for deforestation and crop cultivation by a company representing several of Burma’s military cronies.

A tiger captured by remote camera in Myanmar's Hukaung Valley. Photo: Wildlife Conservation SocietySeng Mai, the head of the Chiang Mai office at environmental NGO Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), told Mizzima on Friday that representatives of some 5,000 farmers—many of whom have had their land confiscated to make way for the projects—intend passing the petition to Obama in person on Monday when he becomes the first US president to visit Burma.

“200,000 acres of the world’s largest tiger reserve are being turned into mono-crop plantations by Yuzana Company, a leading Burmese conglomerate with close ties to military generals,” KDNG said. “The reserve was established by the American non-profit group Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which receives funds from the US government.”

According to public records, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a bureau of the US Department of the Interior, has consistently funded the WCS’s program in the Hugawng Reserve since its inception in 2001.

The US funding—nearly US $400,000—was intended to support studies and conservation of the tiger population in the park, which at 22,000 sq km is roughly the size of the US state of Vermont. FWS/ WCS funds also were also directed at gibbon and elephant conservation, and protecting the local ecosystem.

The real face of Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve. Photo: KDNGHowever, KDNG says the project is simply a “sham”  and that forest areas, animal corridors and traditional small-scale farms in the reserve have been razed to make way for sugar cane and cassava plantations under the operation of the Yuzana Company, which was listed on US and EU sanctions for its close association with the previous ruling military junta.

“The farmers demand that the US government suspend all further funding for the tiger reserve and reconsider the project,” said KDNG, which has been monitoring the situation in Hugawng since 2005.

“American donors should be supporting projects which empower local people instead of projects shielding military cronies under the guise of environmental protection,” said Seng Mai.

According to a 2010 report by the Wildlife Conservation Society, perhaps as few as 50 Asian tigers may remain the Hugawng Valley.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 17 November 2012 12:00 )  

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