Tay Za funds Kachin mountain expedition as IDP suffer nearby

Tay Za funds Kachin mountain expedition as IDP suffer nearby

23 September 2013 19:21       Written by Kachin News Group

A group of American and Burmese climbers reached the summit of Kachin state‘s Gamlang Razi on Sept. 7 with the financial backing of crony Tay Zaw (photo facebook).

A mountaineering expedition in northern Kachin state, financed by Burmese billionaire Tay Za’s Htoo foundation, successfully reached the summit of Burma’s second highest mountain earlier this month. The team which included five Americans and a Burmese became the first ever climbers to reach Gamlang Razi summit on September 7, according to press reports.

The expedition which involved 60 porters took place as Burma’s military engaged in heavy fighting with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the far north of Kachin state in Putao District‘s Machyangbaw (or Machanbaw) Township, an area located south of Gamlang Razi. According to local residents the recent fighting in Putao has displaced hundreds and took place on land that Tay Za is in the process of acquiring the title of, in order to pursue a large scale gold mining project for his company.

In early September nearly the entire population of Nhka Ga village located near Machyangbaw town fled to the forest after the military attacked local KIA units stationed nearby. The displaced villagers continue to have little food or shelter and are facing increasingly dire conditions in nearby forests, Kachin Baptist Convention general secretary Rev. Hkalam Samsun told the Kachin News Group last week.  The area’s remote location and the ongoing hostilities have made sending aid to the internally displaced people (IDP) very difficult.

The fighting in the Putao district began in late August when a combined group of troops from Infantry Battalion No. 137 and a local pro-government Kachin militia called the Rebellion Resistance Force, attacked a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) post near Nhka Ga village.

The fighting did affect the climbers attempt to return to Putao town from the base of the mountain using a helicopter. “Civil conflict in the region of Machyangbaw has slowed the helicopter permitting process, and prevented other groups from undertaking their treks. However, the conflict poses no danger to our team” team leader Andy Tyson noted in a September 16 posting on the expedition group’s Facebook page.

While the conflict between the Burma army and the KIA did not post a threat to the climbers, reports indicate that local civilians were not so lucky. Government troops operating at Nhka Ga village are alleged in early September to have arrested and then killed Kachin Baptist Salang Hkaw Dut and another pastor Yung Hka Khin. Arrested along with the two deceased pastors was another pastor Ram Mai and several of his neighbors who were also tortured by the troops and then released, according to Kachin church officials.

According to Machyangbaw residents, the local Burma military command based in Putao has continued a military campaign which began in August to drive KIA forces from Nhka Ga and give the territory to the pro-government Ahdang militia. The militia is named after a Rawang business man who heads the group.

The American climbers involved in the expedition do not appear to be concerned by the fact their trip was financed by Tay Za, described by the US Treasury department as “a notorious regime henchman and arms dealer”.

“Words can’t express my gratitude for the generosity and kindness provided by Chairman U Tay Za, Htoo foundation, and the countless individuals that came together to support the Gamlang Razi Expedition” climber and photographer Chris Nance wrote in a posting on the expedition group’s Facebook page. Another photo posted on the Facebook page shows expedition member and travel writer, Molly Loomis, appeared on stage with Tay Za to perform a song during a pre trek celebration held at Tay Za’s luxurious Putao resort.

Tay Za appears to be very pleased with the successful climb and took out a billboard ad in Rangoon to celebrate the achievement. He has also handsomely rewarded the team for their successful climb, “For the rest of their stay, team members can stay at any Htoo Group hotel and fly Air Bagan free of charge,” according to another posting on the team’s Facebook page.

Apart from his recent attempt to get access to large amounts of land for gold mining Tay Za already has extensive business interests in the Putao district, a very mountainous area known to be rich in natural resources including timber and minerals. The Irrawaddy magazine reported on Sept. 2 that Tay Za was recently granted a 100,000 acre (40,000 hectare) logging concession in Putao district by government authorities. The new logging concession enables Tay Za to harvest a long stretch of pristine teak forest, which until recently had been left largely left untouched.

During a ceremony in Naypyidaw in January, representatives of two firms owned by Tay Za, Air Bagan and Asia Green Development Bank Limited, made a joint 70 Million Kyat (US $82,000) donation to support Burma army troops taking part in offensives against KIA forces. The donation which came in the form a giant check was quickly denounced by Kachin civil society groups and Kachin exiles including the Kachin National Organization (KNO), who hold Tay Za responsible for encouraging the military to engage in a brutal and bloody conflict that has left more than 100,000 civilians internally displaced.

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