Wed 27 Aug 2014
Filed under: Environment,News
The British environmental NGO Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been cooperating with the Burmese subsidiary of China Power Investment (CPI)—the Chinese company that was building the controversial Myitsone Dam—to establish a national park in Kachin State in order to protect a rare species of monkey called the Burmese snub-nosed monkey. However, it’s unclear whether this rare monkey species will thrive in the park because most of the area’s natural forest habitat has been cleared by logging interests.
The details of FFI’s cooperation with CPI have been disclosed in a corporate social responsibility report released by CPI’s Burmese subsidiary, the Upstream Ayeyawady Confluence Basin Hydropower Co. (ACHC). The report was released last December and states that “In 2012, ACHC cooperated with Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) for setting up Imawbum National Park in the northern Myanmar.”
It remains unclear exactly what CPI’s Burmese subsidiary has been doing to help establish the park, and many Kachin environmentalists have been critical of the CPI subsidiary, which is slated to operate the deeply unpopular Myitsone dam for 50 years if the stalled project winds up getting built. In September 2011, President Thein Sein officially suspended the dam construction on grounds that it was the “people’s will” to halt the project.
CPI’s Burmese subsidiary ACHC is 80% owned by CPI, while Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power owns a 15% stake and Asia World—a firm controlled by the controversial tycoon Steven Law—owns the remaining 5% of ACHC.
It is unclear when the Imawbum National Park will formally be established. In an article posted on FFI’s website in March of this year FFI indicated that it’s working with the Burmese government’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry to conduct field work that will “finalise the biological justification for the gazettement of a new National Park…and [that FFI is also] consulting local communities on boundary delineation.”
Currently the parties involved intend to establish the park in an area which has been the long-time fiefdom of the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), an armed group allied with the Burmese government that has been led by a charismatic figure named Zahkung Ting Ying (also spelled Za Khun Ting Ring).
According to FFI, the Burmese snub-nosed monkey is listed as “critically endangered” because there are only around 300 remaining in the wild. In an article on FFI’s website, the environmental NGO’s Burma Program Director reacted positively to recent video footage of the rare monkey, saying: “The video footage is evidence of the continued presence of this threatened species and gives us a first glimpse into the social organisation of the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey.”
The director of FFI’s Burma Program, Frank Momberg, added that “From this footage we are able to determine that they clearly live in large groups, unlike other leaf-eating monkeys that have been shown to live in smaller family units. This means their social organisation and behaviour is similar to other snub-nosed monkeys, which sets the entire genus apart from other leaf monkeys. It also means that larger groups require large home ranges and larger areas of contiguous forest need to be protected to ensure the survival of the species.”
However, large areas of contiguous forest are hard to come by in NDA-K territory, which calls into question the feasibility of the project. According to a lengthy article published earlier this year by the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post, FFI claims that the NDA-K “is supportive of its conservation aims” (unfortunately, the article’s author incorrectly referred to the group as “NDKA,” a group which doesn’t exist). Yet NDA-K leader Zahkung Ting Ying, who currently serves as a member of parliament, is not particularly known for his dedication to environmental protection.
Over the past 20 years, Tin Ying is believed to have profited immensely from mining and logging concession deals involving Chinese business interests operating in NDA-K territory. Ting Ying’s vast wealth and his reluctance to share the spoils of his natural resource empire with his colleagues reportedly led to several unsuccessful but violent attempts to oust Ting Ying as the head of the NDA-K, including a December 2004 attempt to assassinate Ting Ying by tampering with his car and a full-scale mutiny in September 2005 led by his deputy, Layawk Zelum.
According to a report on Kachin State’s destructive timber trade by the UK NGO Global Witness, Ting Ying’s difficulties with his NDA-K colleagues were exacerbated by arguments relating to profits from the Htang Shanghkawng molybdenum mine, which produces a mineral used in the production of steel alloys.
Previously, Ting Ying commanded a unit of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the military force which has led the Kachin resistance movement against the Burmese government since the early 1960’s. In 1968, Ting Ying defected from the KIA and joined forces with the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). Following the collapse of the CPB in 1989, Ting Ying created the NDA-K with troops from his former KIA unit, after which he quickly signed a ceasefire deal with the central government.
The NDA-K deal with Burma’s military regime enabled Ting Ying’s armed group to profit from the cross-border timber trade with China during a period which resulted in the wide-spread destruction of Kachin State’s forests by the NDA-K and other armed groups working in cooperation with the Burmese army and Chinese business interests. Today, much of NDA-K’s territory remains barren thanks to the massive clear-cutting of trees in the area that took place on Ting Ying’s watch.
In 2009, the NDA-K’s standing army of about 1,000 troops was officially absorbed into the Burmese military as part of the army’s “Border Guard Force” (BGF) and placed in BGF battalions 1001, 1002, and 1003. But unofficially the NDA-K still constitutes a cohesive armed group, and “former” NDA-K soldiers—under the banner of Myanmar’s BGF—have engaged in sporadic armed clashes with the KIA as recently as 2012 and early 2013. Ting Ying still wields significant influence over his troops, and in 2012 he even publicly distributed weapons to soldiers in the armed group formerly known as NDA-K.
During Myanmar’s 2010 parliamentary election the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) didn’t field a candidate against Ting Ying, demonstrating the close ties between Ting Ying and the country’s ruling military. Ting Ying ran as an independent candidate and easily defeated his only other opponent, a member of the National Unity Party (NUP), a party affiliated with remnants of the Ne Win regime who no longer call the shots in Myanmar’s military-dominated government.