YANGON — Citing concerns of land loss, locals are planning protests over a Mt. Hkakabo Razi National Park expansion project, which aims to distinguish the locale as Myanmar’s first UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Demonstrations are scheduled to be held in northern Kachin State’s Putao, Machanbaw and Naungmon townships on Sept. 28.
U Yaw Gu, chair of Rawang Literature and Cultural Affairs in Putao, told The Irrawaddy that around 10,000 people are expected to participate in the protests.
“Locals don’t agree with expanding the area for Mt. Hkakabo Razi National Park. They believe that it will impact their life negatively,” he explained.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation published an announcement that the mountain’s national park would be expanded so that it could earn Myanmar’s first Natural World Heritage Site designation.
The Kachin Political Cooperation Committee (KPCC) published a statement on Sept. 18 condemning the ministry’s announcement and calling on them to stop the implementation of the process.
“We objected to the project due to people’s will. There’s no transparency in it and locals will not get compensation […] for losing their land due to the expansion of the area,” said U Lan Yaw, general secretary of the Kachin National Congress Party.
“We simply don’t want anyone to exploit our land,” he added, citing previous land grabs in the Hukawng Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.
Hkakabo Razi’s landscape is rich in ecological diversity, including rare species of orchids.
Mt. Hkakabo Razi National Park was established in 1996 with an area of 1,472 square miles around Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, located in Putao, Kachin State.
Myanmar’s Forest Department has working with UNESCO since 2013 to designate the area as a Natural World Heritage Site. The Forest Department and UNESCO are now undergoing an intiative to “safeguard natural heritage” in Myanmar. According to a Forest Department announcement, community members from nearby villages have been appointed and trained as park guards in both the national park and the wildlife sanctuary to monitor and report on the illegal activities in the areas.
The tentative list of Natural World Heritage Sites in Myanmar include the Hkakabo Razi landscape, Hukawng Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, Indawgyi Wildlife Sanctuary, Natmataung National Park, Myeik Archipelago, the Irrawaddy River Corridor and the Tanintharyi Forest Corridor. Among these tentative sites, Mt. Hkakabo Razi has been given top priority; the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has already acknowledged all of the potential sites.