Dawei villagers want more consideration

Mizzima News 8 June 2012  

The Italian-Thai Development Company and other investors in the proposed Dawei deep-sea port and special economic zone should clearly explain the project’s plan to residents and to listen to their concerns, said Dawei Project Watch (DPW), a human rights and environmental advocacy group.

Construction on a road leading to the Dawei Project. Photo: KwekaluConstruction on a road leading to the Dawei Project. Photo: Kwekalu

In a report, “No Rights To Know,” which focuses on the lead up to and implementation of the Dawei deep-sea port project, it says the villagers in the area have been largely ignored and they are still seeking justice and consideration from the government.

The report documents how local residents did not have prior knowledge that a special economic zone was to be constructed on the site of their villages, because project authorities developed the plan in secret, said the DPW.

Villagers were not afforded the rights to be involved in decision-making or notified of key information that directly impacted their lives, it said.

DPW is a group of local activists and human rights workers who observe and collect information about the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project.

Since June 2008, when the agreement for the projected 10- year Dawei Project was signed, the Thai government and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) have been gradually instituting the project.

DPW said authorities from the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) would confiscate about 8,000 acres of paddy-cultivated lands, 10,000 acres of rubber plantations, 12,000 to 14,000 acres of cashew-nut plantations, and over 150,000 acres of orchid plantations.

If the project is implemented as planned, villagers from 21 communities will lose almost all of their property. The total economic zone constitutes about 250 square meters (97 square miles) in which approximately 30,000 people, or 5,500 families, will be directly affected.

Some houses have already been removed due to their proximity to road reconstruction sites in 10 of the 21 villages, including Kamyaingswe, Mudoo, Htaingyi, Mudoo Ngae (Western Mudoo), Pan Tin Inn, Bagaw Soon, Yalai, Paradat and Kyakhatabin Inn, according to the DPW assessment.

DPW member Nai Ramonnya, 40, who has visited and monitored the project site, said, “Even though the villagers are being forced to relocate, they do not want to leave, especially older people who have lived in the villages their entire lives.”

“Some families have moved to places where relatives live, even though the new locations may not be suitable to sustain livelihoods, because they are not sure whether the government will provide them with new land or how much compensation they will get for confiscated property. They don’t know what to do about future plans since the project authorities have yet to describe what will happen,” Nai Ramonnya said.

At the World Economic Forum in Bangkok on June 1, 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a Member of Parliament, warned investors and businessmen who plan to invest in Burma to do so with an awareness of the need to improve the lives of ordinary Burmese people.

She also mentioned in her speech that the government was pushing through democratic, economic and social reforms, but did not seem willing to make much effort in overhauling a judiciary that lacked independence and transparency.

“For a moment please don’t think too much of the benefit investment will bring to investors,” Suu Kyi said. “We don’t want investment to mean further corruption… and greater inequality.”

The previous Burmese military regime, or SPDC, and the Thai government agreed upon and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on May 19, 2008, to develop and implement the Dawei SEZ plan. The bi-literal agreement grants Thai companies extensive involvement in the construction of Dawei SEZ, permitting almost monopoly control of the project’s development.

Besides the Dawei SEZ, the new government also implemented the Thilawa Special Economic Zone near Rangoon (Yangon) and the Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone in western Rakhine State as part of a long-term plan for economic progress.