Civil society group calls for freeze on Dawei economic zone

13 October 2014 | Ei Ei Toe Lwin | Myanmar Times


Stop work at the Dawei Special Economic Zone now – unless proper safeguards are put in place, local activist groups are urging. They issued a list of demands to coincide with the visit to Myanmar of the Thai prime minister.

Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s Myanmar trip was his first overseas visit since taking power earlier this year. The leaders of both countries agreed on October 9 to continue to implement the stalled Dawei deep-sea port and the ambitious Special Economic Zone project initiated in 2000, as rapidly as possible.

In 2010 a 60-year concession was granted to Italian-Thai Development Ltd (ITD) to develop the Dawei deep-sea port, industrial estate and road and rail link to Thailand.

Project proponents say it will reduce the need to ship through the difficult Malacca Straits by providing a direct overland link between Dawei on the Indian Ocean and Thailand’s eastern seaboard. But the development became mired in environmental and social problems, including accusations of land grabs, inadequate and unfair resettlement and compensation, uncompensated loss of farmlands and forests, and damage to local communities’ social and economic wellbeing, according to some civil society groups.

In November 2013, Italian-Thai was sidelined and the Myanmar and Thai governments took over the troubled project, transferring control to the Dawei SEZ Development Company, which is jointly owned by the two governments.

A coalition of civil society groups named the Dawei Development Association (DDA) is now calling on the Myanmar and Thai governments to refrain from reviving the Dawei Special Economic Zone development project unless associated problems are rectified.

They are demanding the two governments resolve a range of problems before resuming work on the site, including ensuring international environmental and social protections, avoiding involuntary resettlement, improving disclosures and preventing corruption.

U Thant Zin, coordinator of the DDA, said local communities had not been given adequate information about the project and had been forced off their land without fair compensation. “There is also no remedy for those whose rights have been abused in the process so far. All these problems must be resolved before the project restarts,” he said.

Observers estimate that 20 to 36 villages (comprising 22,000 to 43,000 people) would be directly affected by the SEZ and related projects, including an industrial estate, ports, road links, reservoirs and resettlement areas, the DDA statement said.

“Both governments should respect the culture and tradition of local communities and recognise the use of land practice and the role of local people in natural resource management,” said Saw Alex of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network.

“It is clear that the project activities on the ground so far have been carried out in ways that show that the project management is seriously corrupt. Continuing the project and investing in such a project will maintain the status quo of ongoing illegal activity, including corruption,” said U Kyaw Thu, an activist watching the Dawei SEZ project.