In 2012, the Myanmar government and the Karen National Union signed a historic ceasefire agreement. After nearly 70 years of brutal conflict, relative peace and stability had finally come to southern Myanmar. In the Tanintharyi region, a lush, mostly untouched mountainous area on the border with Thailand, where the fighting had been fierce, the residents began to feel hope.
“The war was over. I had my life back. I felt hopeful that my children would have a good life,” said Aye Po, a 52-year-old mother of six. The formation of a nominally civilian government in the national capital, Naypyidaw, only added to the optimism.
That hope quickly began to fade. Around the time of the ceasefire, a consortium of Myanmar and Thai companies descended on Ban Chaung, a remote part of Tanintharyi, to do what years of civil war had made impossible: extract the region’s rich natural resources. The four companies, led by the Myanmar firm Mayflower Mining, had discovered coal in the area, and they secured permission to establish a 2,100-acre mine and related infrastructure.
At no point did the companies ask people living in the area, mostly members of the Karen ethnic minority, for permission to mine their ancestral land. Rather, they lied about the project and obscured their true intentions at nearly every stage, according to community members. Among a handful of token gestures – captured in photos that appear in promotional materials – the companies distributed 80 bags of cement and contributed $575 to build a hospital.
“They came in and surveyed my land and killed my betel nut orchard. They didn’t ask for my permission. Nobody told me what was going on,” said Saw Eatze a 29-year-old farmer.
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