Driru in northwest of Kham is currently administered as a county under Nagchu prefecture within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This prefecture is richly endowed with mineral ores, such as gold, silver, copper, antimony, lead, zinc, borax, petroleum, salt etc. These ores found in the region are large in reserve, high in grade, and easy for exploitaton. According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), the local authorities have started building roads at the foothills of Sebtra Zagyen Mountain to pave way for the mining activities in the region. Local authorities have forced the residents of three villages in Markor, Wathang and Gochu to sign a document that allows the local authorities to conduct mining activities at Sebtra Zagyen.
Karma, the head of the Markor village was detained by Chinese official for challenging the official order in February. When the news of his detention reached outside Tibet, local authorities immediately called a meeting during which 30 Tibetans were detained of suspected involvement in leaking the information.
Earlier history of mining in Driru County
This is not the first mining activity on sacred mountains in Driru County. Earlier in the year 2010, in the name of hydroelectric construction project, these companies were mining the sacred Naglha Dzamba Mountain, which is part of a series of sacred mountain range. This led to protests from the local people. After a series of local protests, Chinese authorities halted the mining and yet again in May 2013, a mining company arrived and started the mining activities in mount Naglha Dzamba. On May 24, 2013, over 5,400 Tibetans from the four major areas, including Pekar, Nagshoe Phudha and Tsala gathered in Dathang town, near the sacred mountain to protest against the growing Chinese mining in the county. Ultimately the local protests managed to stop the mining activities in the mountain.
Impact of the mining
Continued exploitation of the resources in the region not only causes tension among the people that led to the continued protest, but also causes huge social, cultural and environmental impact. These sacred mountains are of great importance to the local people, where their religious belief is associated with the mountains. The Sebtra Zagyen Mountain is one of the three “sacred, supreme places” representing the place of mind. This mountain is not only of religious and cultural significance, but also is home to many endangered animals such as Tsoe (Tibetan antelope), Nah (Blue Sheep) and Gowa (Tibetan gazelle).
Beside this, the Gyalmo Ngulchu, which is also known as Salween, runs through the foothills of the Mount Sebtra Zagyen where the mining activity is happening. From the Tibetan plateau, Salween River runs through three different countries — China, Thailand and Myanmar and sustains over 7 million people. Locals were afraid that mining activities on Sebtra Zagyen will trigger landslides which can block the river or it can damage the river ecology. These mining activities not only have great impact on the local environment, but it can also have a great impact on the people who are dependent on this river in all the three countries.
*Dechen Palmo is a research fellow at the Environment and Development Desk, Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.