Irrawaddy 18 May 2012
By SAW YAN NAING
Residents of Dawei, the southern seaport that is set to become the site of Burma’s largest industrial zone, say they welcome the opportunities the project may bring but worry that it could cost them their land and livelihoods, according to members of a leading activist group.
The residents expressed their concerns during a series of briefings held by the 88 Generation Students Group, which has been touring the Dawei region since May 15. Their trip is expected to end on Saturday.
Dawei—also known as Tavoy—is the the site of a US $50 billion deep-sea port and industrial complex that will be built by Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD), Thailand’s biggest construction company.
Pyone Cho, a leading member of the 88 Generation Students Group, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that many local residents came to meet them when they held public briefings about peace and the emergence of an open society in every village they visited.
The villagers also spoke out frankly about the difficulties they are facing—especially their concerns about the planned construction of a special economic zone near Dawei.
“The common problem they are facing now is land confiscation. They said they accept the development, but they also fear that they will lose their living and rights to property,” said Pyone Cho.
“They hope the development will bring better living standards and that their rights will be protected,” he added.
Many local people have complained that they have not received a fair price for land that has already been cleared to make way for a new road and houses that are being built for relocated residents.
“They want to get a fair price for their seized lands. They want this problem to be solved fairly. They don’t want injustice to come along with the development,” said Pyone Cho, adding that he found cases of land confiscation problems in about 10 villages in the Dawei region.
According to a report by The Bangkok Post, a total of around 30,000 people may have to be relocated by the end of 2013 to make way for the project, which is expected to be completed by 2015.
Local residents said that ITD and local Burmese authorities only offered a good price for land belonging to those with government connections, while ordinary people were paid far less.
“Many ordinary people are afraid to even complain about getting an unfair price for their land,” said Thar Nge, a local resident in Htin Gyi village who also attended a briefing by the 88 Generation Students Group on Thursday. About 1,000 local villagers attended the public gathering on that day.
“Some villagers who live in isolated areas don’t know that they can demand equal rights,” he added.
Thar Nge said he welcomed the 88 Generation Students Group’s briefings and hoped to see more such events in the future. He said ordinary people need to be educated about their basic rights, and that more media attention should be given to their concerns.
“After attending the gathering, many people understand that they have their own rights. Now, they are not afraid,” said Thar Nge.
Six leading members of the 88 Generation Students Group, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Htay Kywe, are taking part in the Dawei tour.