Monday, September 29, 2014

Tay Za funded Thai chopper searching for Putao climbers goes missing

A missing Thai chopper in Kachin state's Hkakabo Razi in Putao district. Photo:

Burmese billionaire Tay Za's search and rescue effort to locate two lost climbers in northern Kachin state appears to have taken a turn for the worst with the controversial blacklisted tycoon's Htoo Foundation now admitting they have lost contact with a helicopter that was chartered to assist with the search. Communication with the helicopter was lost shortly after it left Putao on Saturday. It was carrying three passengers including the Thai pilot.

“On the ground, soldiers, policemen and local people are cooperating to search the B4 helicopter,” said the Htoo foundation in a statement posted on the group's website. The statement also indicated that two other helicopters and an MI 17 from the Burma's military are flying over the area to search for the missing chopper.

The two Burmese climbers who disappeared while making their way down Hkakabo Razi Mountain in northern Kachin state near Putao have not been heard from in nearly a month. The apparent loss of the helicopter which was chartered from Thailand is just the latest set back to the somewhat chaotic rescue mission which initially involved ill equipped Chinese rescuers who quit the rescue mission shortly after joining.

The climbers Aung Myint Myat and Wai Yan Min Thu, were part of a group of 8 Burmese climbers attempting to make the first successful climb of Hkakabo Razi since 1996 when Japan's Takashi Ozaki and Nyima Gyaltsen (aka "Aung Tse"), were the first ever to scale the summit.

According to their fellow team members Aung Myint Myat and Wai Yan Min Thu were the only ones from the original group who made it to the top on August 31. Shortly after reaching the summit their colleagues lost contact with the pair. The other climbers have already returned safely down the mountain.

Last year Tay Za funded a group of 5 Americans and one Burmese climber who scaled mount Kachin state's other tallest mountain Gamlang-Razi in a widely publicized effort to determine whether Gamlang Razi or Hkakabo Razi is Burma's tallest mountain, apparently a matter of great importance to Tay Za and his American friends. After completing their successful climb team leader Andy Tyson and his colleagues gave a press conference in Rangoon that involved parading around a local man named Dar Weik, who the Htoo Foundation claims is Kachin state's last male “pygmy”.

Tay Za was himself stranded on Fukan Razi, another mountain in northern Kachin state in February 2011, when conditions forced his helicopter to land on the mountain. Tay Za and his crew were ultimately rescued after being stuck on the mountain for three days and enduring very cold temperatures. At the time of his rescue the government which was led by his close ally General Than Shwe devoted a significant amount of resources into finding and assisting with Tay Za's rescue. According to local people in Putao when Tay Za was lost all military personnel in the Putao area were drafted into joining the rescue effort.

Tay Za already has extensive business interests in Putao district, a very mountainous area known to be rich in natural resources including timber and minerals. The Irrawaddy magazine reported in September of last year 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. Tay Za is also known to have extensive mining interests in Putao district and firm's under his control have applied for permits to mine for gold and other minerals in the area.

During a ceremony in Naypyidaw in January 2013, 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 Kachin Independence Army 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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