According to spokesman Ah Nah of the Kachin Development Networking Group, which has been monitoring the valley since 2007, virtually all the concessions are within the reserve boundaries.
Wildlife Conservation Society, which pushed the regime to set up the sanctuary, says only 25 percent of Yuzana’s plantations are in the park.
The Myanmar company’s owner, tycoon Htay Myint, enjoys close links to the military. The country’s largest money-spinning industries — energy, mining and electricity — and those related to the environment are all led by retired generals.
Jonathan Eames of BirdLife International, which has been tracking the status of the Gurney’s pitta, says efforts to create a park to protect the bird’s habitat failed because of the military’s push to replace forests with oil palm plantations in the Tenasserim Range. Similar clearing occurred earlier across the bird’s territory in Thailand.
Myanmar operators proved less than competent, so deforestation has slowed, but Eames expects it to accelerate again as Malaysians, Indonesians and Thais, experts at plantation management, move in.
Foreign enterprises already have taken advantage elsewhere. Thai companies, particularly in the 1990s, decimated teak forests in eastern Myanmar and are poised to become major players at Dawei, a deep sea port and vast industrial estate being built by Thailand’s largest construction enterprise, Italian-Thai Development. It has recently drawn protests by locals fearing pollution of what is now an unsullied region.
Pianporn says a number of Thai companies, faced with increasingly tougher environmental laws at home, are planning to relocate their “dirty industries,” including petrochemical and coal-fired plants, next door.
A surge in hydroelectric projects is also expected, with China, the No. 1 investor in Myanmar, leading the charge. In face of strong domestic protests, the regime suspended construction of the Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy River in September last year, although environmental groups recently report that work by the China Power Investment Corp quietly continues around the dam site.
Chinese loggers have stripped large areas of northern Kachin State and others threaten southern regions.
Activists say that environmentally harmful projects often go hand-in-hand with human rights abuses such as forced labor and mass relocations.
Myanmar officials say they are not blind to the dangers.
Presidential adviser Ko Ko Hlaing said bids by foreign investors would be scrutinized to ensure they adhere to a policy of sustainable development.
“We Myanmar citizens are quite aware of the consequences. We cannot allow our cherished motherland to be destroyed by greedy foreign investors,” he said in a statement.
In his inaugural address, Thein Sein pledged “serious attention” to protecting forests and wildlife, reducing air and water pollution and controlling dumping of industrial waste.
However, the good intentions could be dashed given Myanmar’s vulnerabilities.
The country ranked 180 out of 183 countries on Global Transparency’s corruption index last year, and is only now debating an environmental law in parliament. Only sketchy guidelines for sustainable development exist.