By Phurbu Thinley
Environmental damage caused by years of mining near Lhasa. (Undated Photo: Woeser/RFA)
Dharamsala, July 20: Chinese authorities in the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region” (TAR) on Monday formally put into operation a metal ore mining project in the Gyama (Ch: Jiama
) village of Lhasa, capital of Tibet.
China National Gold Group Corp (CNGG), China’s second largest gold producer, said Monday the first phase of its “Gyama polymetallic mine” in Lhasa began production Monday, Chinese state media said.
Located in the Meldro Gungkar County of Lhasa municipality, the Gyama mining project is one of the eight priority construction projects of China to exploit Tibet’s rich natural resources.
CNNG subsidiary Tibet Huatailong Mining Development Co. started construction on the Gyama mine project in 2008.
The local Tibetan residents from Gyama township last year reportedly petitioned the local government
to put an immediate halt to the mining project in the area. The local government, however, is said to have paid no heed to the petition, and the whole region remained under heavy military surveillance, with imposition of severe restrictions on communication to outside world and people visiting the region.
Gyama in Meldro Gongkar is the birthplace of Tibet’s great king Songtsen Gampo (617-650 AD). There are fifteen villages in the valley, two of which are nomadic.
In June 2009, Tibetans in Gyama township protested against
a water diversion project at a mining site in the area leading to skirmishes between residents and miners. Scuffles between angry Tibetans and miners were followed by police crackdown, leaving at least three Tibetans seriously wounded. The Chinese miners had to leave the site following a meeting between Tibetan residents and authorities.
The Gyama mining project is currently China’s largest mining project operated by a central state-owned enterprise in “TAR”.
It is reported that the first phase of this project currently has an expected daily output of 6,000 tonnes.
The project, which involves gross investments of 8 billion yuan, (1.18 billion U.S. dollars), is designed to have a total daily output capacity of 15,000 tons. But the company did not say when that will be, Xinhua
news agency said.
Hao Peng, deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Party regional committee in TAR, said Peng said the formal operation of the project “marks a shift from large-scale investment to an extensive output stage.”
Peng also said that the project will “help meet China's soaring demand for non-ferrous metals”.
A new photo from Tibet shows Tibetan anti-mining protesters in standoff with Chinese security forces in Shigatse, Tibet. Up to 30 Tibetans have been reportedly detained following a large-scale anti-mining protest in Namling County of Shigatse towards the last week of May 2010. (Photo:RFA) Click Here for more photos from the incident
Mining in Tibet is a contentious issue. Tibetans have long been professing the faith of holding nature as being too sacred to be disturbed. But with more and more mining companies operating in Tibet, activists say there is a great danger to the region's fragile ecosystem.
Critics say Chinese and foreign mining companies are taking full “undue advantage” of the troubled Tibetan situation in exploiting Tibet’s untapped mineral wealth. They argue that no significant effort is made to consult the Tibetan people or to seek their informed consent on the issue.
The restless protests by Tibetan exiles and voiceless anguish of Tibetans in Tibet are often too meek to challenge the Communist China’s discretionary authority to exploit the region’s rich mineral reserves, which were kept untapped until the Chinese occupation.
Lately Tibetans in different parts of Tibet have been able to initiate some kind of sustained protests against mining activities, and in some cases have even managed to score temporary victories.
Earlier in June 2009
, a tense standoff over a planned Chinese gold mine in Markham County, in Chamdo Prefecture in "TAR", was forced to be resolved in favour of local Tibetans after vigorous anti-mining protests for weeks. The dispute occurred over operations of the mine set up by a Chinese firm at Ser Ngol Lo (Year of gold and silver), a mountain considered sacred by Tibetans. Tibetan protesters were facing armed Chinese security forces at the site, where Chinese mining and Lumbering firm, Zhongkai Co, had been authorized to excavate.
Again in May this year
, at least five protesters, including two women, were injured as thousands of Tibetan villagers in Markham County renewed protests against mining operations on mountains they consider sacred. Protesters this time targeted three mines located at Tsongshen, Choeten, and Deshoe in the county.