In a case that seems to have received virtually no media coverage, the Sacred Land Film Project website reports on the struggle of the Tibetan village of Abin to halt a mining project on Mount Kawagebo, which is sacred to Tibetans and whose summit lies on the border between the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Yunnan province. The village and proposed mine are on the western slope of the mountain, within the TAR and along a traditional centuries-old pilgrimage route; the eastern slope, within Yunnan, is protected by the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers plunge down through green gorges from the Tibetan plateau. Citing activist He Ran Gao of the Chinese NGO Green Earth Volunteers, the account states that gold mining began near the village in February 2011, over the protests of the villagers. After repeated attempts at negotiations failed, villagers pushed some $300,000 worth of mining equipment into the Nu River (as Tibetans call the Salween). Harassment, death threats and attacks on villagers predictably followed, and some fled to other villages to escape the violence. But then:
On January 20, 2012, a village leader who had tried to confront the mining company was ambushed by local police, tased and arrested. Some 200 community members surrounded the police station, and an ensuing riot resulted in violence and injuries on both sides, with at least one villager sent to the hospital with serious injuries. The leader was released, but protests continued as villagers demanded closure of the mine, and hundreds more villagers from the surrounding area joined in.
This time, the local government held negotiations with the community, including the just-released leader, on behalf of the mining company, whose boss had reportedly fled the area. Villagers involved in negotiations said they were offered money in exchange for allowing the mining to continue, but they refused. On January 23, with tensions mounting, a vice-official from the prefecture government ordered the mine closed and the equipment trucked out of the village.
While the persistence of the community to protect its holy mountain ultimately paid off, some villagers suggested the mountain itself had a role to play. During the negotiations, many reported hearing the sound of a trumpet shell—used in Tibetan religious rituals—coming from the mountain, while others reported unusually windy weather, which stopped once the conflict was resolved.
As they say in Peru, Pachamama rising…
In 2010, there were similar militant protests at another sacred mountain on the pilgrimage route, Ser Ngul Lo. The last report we were able to find, posted Sept. 12, 2011 by the Central Tibetan Administration of the India-based exile government, indicated that the stand-off at Ser Ngul Lo continues.
Similar struggles were also recently reported from Inner Mongolia.