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Irrawaddy: Mogok Residents Protest Against Gems Traders’ Building Planned on Lake

Irrawaddy: Mogok Residents Protest Against Gems Traders’ Building Planned on Lake (click to view)

MOGOK — Hundreds of residents of the ruby mining town of Mogok, in Mandalay Division, have taken to the streets in recent days to protest against a plan by the local gems traders association to construct a head office and several buildings on a scenic lake in the town’s center.

Residents and environmental activists are objecting to plans by the Mogok Gems Traders Association to build a new headquarters and possibly a gems market, museum and restaurants at the lake shore.

The 14-acre lake at the town’s heart is a landmark feature of Mogok, which sits at the center of a mining region in northern Mandalay Division long known for its rich deposits of rubies, sapphires and other gemstones. The lake was originally the site of British colonial-era ruby mines, which were filled with water with the passing of time.

Residents have opposed the plans since they were first announced late last year and as many as 2,000 residents have been protesting in recent days after construction was set to start this month, said Soe Myint, who leads local environmental protection group Mogok Sein Lan.

“This lake is a famous landmark of our city and the public area is also a recreation area for residents. If buildings will be built around the lake, the beauty of city will be ruined and the environment will be destroyed,” he told The Irrawaddy.

“We know that for our region’s development we need this kind of gems traders’ association office and gems museum, but we don’t want them to construct it in this area,” Soe Myint said. “Mogok residents are maintaining this lake and don’t want to spoil it. That’s why we will have to keep protecting our landmark and environment.”

The Shan Nationalities Democracy Party, the National Unity Party and other local social volunteers group have also called for a suspension of the planned project.

Ba Htay, head of the Mogok Gems Traders Association, declined to comment on the protests against his association’s project. “I have nothing to say about this protest,” said the businessman, who is also a Lower House lawmaker for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.

U Eindaka, the abbot of Yay Pu Monastery, who participated in the protest, said, “Residents want to stop this construction. What we need is a better solution by the authorities. It doesn’t mean people don’t want a gems office, they will agree if this office will move to another place.”

Htet Naing, a Mogok-based writer organizing the demonstration, said, “We won’t stop our protest as long as there is no solution to move this project.”

Local authorities said they did not authorize the ongoing protests but would not pursuit legal charges against those participating.