Friday, April 27, 2012

Dawei people threaten they will close the area – forbidding the construction

Translated from (18 April 2012)

Villagers abolished a community meeting, requested transparency of EIA.

Dawei-Kanchanaburi road development might be cancelled due to villagers living in the Karen National Union (KNU) zone.
Dawei Development Project is located in Dawei City on the shore of the Andaman Sea in Tanaosri District, the southernmost part of Myanmar. Italian-Thai Development PCL has received a concession from Myanmar’s government to develop this project and lease the land for 75 years. In addition to problems related to the impact on the environment and the relocation of 40,000 Dawei residents people from their homeland, there is the issue of resistance from Karen communities living in the area through which the road connecting Dawei Deep Seaport to Baan Pu Namron in Kanchanaburi is to pass.

The project on developing the road, railway and gas pipe systems that are to connect the Dawei deep sea port and industrial estate to Kanchanaburi is one of the three main development projects in addition to three deep seaports, industrial factories and power plants in the economic zone around the seaports.

The route connecting Dawei Industrial Estate to Baan Pu Namron in Kanchanaburi is 160 km long. It includes the road, railway tracks, high-voltage electrical lines, gas and petrol pipes from Motama Bay to the Thai-Myanmar boarder in parallel. The route is 200-meter wide so it will impact on local communities in the area during all stages of construction, including preparing the area, moving heavy machines in, and the real construction process.

The area that the road will cut through is a forest and mountainous zone controlled by Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which is KNU’s military wing. A movement against Myanmar’s government continues, although there has been no active fight or battle since the end of last year as a result of a cease-fire agreement. However, the situation in the area is still tense.
Thailand is to build a road to connect “Laem Chabang” to support similar development
This route is considered a key strategic route and will have a direct impact on Thailand. The Thai government has a plan to develop a road that connects Baan Pu Namron, Kanchanaburi to Laem Chabang Seaport in Chonburi, a distance of 170 km, to extend and connect to Dawei Deep Seaport with Laem Chabang Seaport. It is estimated that the budget for the project is around 90 billion Baht.

Furthermore, the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board of Thailand prepares to push forward a project on developing the Bangyai-Nakorn Pathom-Kanchanaburi Motorway, 97 km in total, extending double-railway tracks from Nakorn Pathom to Kanchanaburi, as well as a project to enlarge the immigration office in Baan Pu Namron to support these developments and economic expansion in the future.

Karen communities resist the “new road”

“Bangkok Biz” reporters went to Tabewchaung Village, which is a big Karen village in the area where the road construction will take place. They found that the villagers had resisted the project and founded the “Working Group for Sustainable Environment and Community”. The working group has 30 members; some of them are local community committees.

The working group informed the reporters that Italian-Thai PCL had already partially started the construction, but a team of academics had recently come to do a survey as part of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). So they felt that the company didn’t genuinely respect the rights of local people.

The villagers are concerned about the following three issues:
1. The road construction will make the villagers lose their land, and until now it is unclear what, if any, kind of compensation here will be.
2. The construction causes damage to the environment, especially the water supply for domestic use and agriculture. This is because the
waterway has been filled to make way for the road. The interruption of the supply has already happened with no action taken to solve it.
3. Burmese and Chinese businessmen have come to the area and bought land as an investment.

12 villages resist – demand EIA first

The president of the working group, who is the leader of the villagers in the area, said that when there were any development projects in the area, mostly the companies concerned did not follow up on their promises to the villagers, which made them feel doubtful and distrustful, especially about the compensation which was always postponed. This project is not different.

“This road construction destroyed many betel nut trees that villagers had grown. This shows that [the company] didn’t think about the impact on the villagers. When asked about compensation, the company’s representative claimed that they required documents and needed to go through many processes, but couldn’t give answer about how much the compensation would be and when they would get it. Betel nut trees are not only economic plants here, but they are like tradition of the village too.”

The president of the working group said that currently there were 12 villages that disagreed with the road construction and its effect on their land. The villagers requested that the company must send an independent research team to complete an EIA, in order to come to a conclusion whether they can build this road; and if they could indeed build the road, how it would be done. If the company does not agree with this request, they will prohibit the construction.

Villagers protest against joint meeting between “academics-company-reps”

When reporters were in the affected area at the end of March, with support from Trans border news organization, a community meeting was held in Tabewchaung Village. Representatives from Italian-Thai and academics from Chulalongkorn University invited local villagers to the meeting for discussion.

However, the meeting became very tense. Villagers, all of whom were Karen took turns asking about the solutions to their problems, especially the issue of compensation, respect of their rights, local norms and traditions in the communities, and the impartiality of the academics in charge of the EIA, because they came together with representatives from the company.

“We are hosts, you are guests. Instead of respecting us hosts, you guests ordered us to do this and that. If you were us, what would you think? When you came to work here, we always gave you a warm welcome. When we worked in Thailand, we had surveillance from policemen to comply with the Thai law. When you come here, please give us some respect.” A Karen woman villager shared this with great emotion.

The academics working on the EIA explained that they were unbiased because they were academics, and they were ready to listen to villagers’ opinions and would inform the company for further adjustment. The reason that they went there with the company was for convenience only. A representative from Italian-Thai PCL tried to explain the reason for the compensation process, and admitted that they made mistakes in the past, but wouldn’t make them again.
However, due to the unclear explanation especially about the compensation and respect for the community, the villagers walked out of the meeting, much to the academics and company representatives’ surprise.

KNU suggests the company listen to the villagers

Mr. Tu Ye, KNU’s committee member for Marid-Dawei region, who observed the meeting, said Italian-Thai PCL once had a discussion with the KNU board about the Kanchanaburi-Dawei seaport road development project. KNU gave the company several suggestions, especially the importance of listening to and being fair with villagers about the compensation for their land, and warning them not to do anything that the villagers would not approve of. However, the company did not listen to their suggestions, leading to the current problems.

“The villagers once said that they would close the area to stop the construction. Therefore, if the company wants to continue the project, it requires renegotiation,” Mr. Tu Ye said.