The Kachin Independent Organization (KIO) and illegal Chinese firms engaged in rare earth mineral mining are linked, as evidenced by the recent large-scale public protest against Chinese companies in Mansi Township, Kachin State on March 21, 2023.
The temporary structures put up by Chinese businesses to harvest and refine rare earth elements at the mining sites were destroyed by the demonstrators.The demonstration was organized by the Kachin Rare Earth Committee and Kachin Freedom Team and over a thousand people actively participated. Since people’s farm lands are being poisoned by the chemicals used in the extraction of rare earth minerals, many were protestors were quite hostile. According to Kachin Network Group (KNG), which has been actively educating the public about the impacts of rare earth extraction said now people are aware the implications of rare earth mining despite it generated local employment and high cash availability.
Unexpectedly, KIO has remained silent on the subject. The Chinese owners insisted that extraction was done with KIO’s consent and that revenue had also been shared. The average populace is said to be suffering while the leadership is allegedly making money. This demonstration signals to KIO that people cannot be used as bargaining chips in the name of independence. The KIO leadership lives a luxurious lifestyle and provides world-class education for their children, while the average Kachin family struggles to eat two meals a day. If this continues, KIO will lose public’s confidence and support and its existence would be at the stake.
Following the coup in Feb 202, common Kachins have been the target of KIO’s logistical and training programs for PDFs. Hundreds have been killed by airstrikes and the situation in the camps for internally displaced people has gotten worse. The military junta has ordered the closure of the IDP camps in Myitkyina, the state capital, as they believe that KIO is using these camps to obtain international help, which is subsequently utilized to boost its armed wing, KIA. KIO is aware that people are growing impatient and that it is getting harder to survive. The military dictatorship has shut off supplies and China has also imposed border transit restrictions. KIO is concerned about declining earnings, so illicit deals with the Chinese are being made to make up for losses and keep fighting.