Monday, September 30, 2013

Residents call for halt to Dawei economic zone

Dawei residents are demanding a suspension of work at the huge deep-sea port project, claiming promised compensation has not been paid and work conducted so far has damaged agricultural land.

The Dawei-based Tavoyan Women’s Union (TWU) distributed a documentary video on September 26 recording the difficulties of the residents.

“Residents’ dissatisfaction is growing as their farms and gardens are being destroyed without their knowledge,” said U Ye Linn Myint of the Dawei Development Association (DDA).

“This is why we are asking for the project to be suspended. We want the government to solve the problems first. The more the project grows, the more the residents are unhappy,” said Daw Su Su Swe of TWU.

Myanmar and Thailand signed an agreement to develop a deep sea port and special economic zone at Dawei in 2010. The original developer, Italian-Thai Development, stepped back from the project after struggling to obtain financial backing. The Myanmar and Thai governments have since taken over and are attempting to bring Japan into the project, the first phase of which is expected to cost around US$10 billion.

This first phase will see 12,000 people from six villages forced to move at the end of this year’s monsoon season, according to TWU. Future development phases will require another 18,000 residents from 13 villages to relocate, the group says.

Though the project implementation committee has promised “reasonable” compensation for the plantations, gardens and farms that will be taken over, residents say so far they have received nothing.

“The new roads they’ve built block the waterways for the paddy fields. Now our fields are flooded after the heavy rain,” said U Aung Myint, from Mudoo village.

“Myel Gyi and Nayin Kyaw villages face the same problem. Paddy fields in Myel Gyi were flooded and many acres of fields at Nayin Kyaw were covered with stones where the earth was broken for the road-building,” he added.

Another villager, U Maung Than, said residents are watching their fields day and night to make sure they are not destroyed by the developer.

“We refused to move from our lands when the authorities asked us. There is evidence that the authorities destroyed the crops of farmers who refused to move,” said U Maung Than.

The villagers also say local roads were ruined by the passage of heavy plant machinery.

“When we went to Ital-Thai to ask them to repair the roads they ignored us. Students who have to attend school in other villages cannot go because the roads are ruined. In the end, the villagers had to repair the roads themselves,” said U Maung Than.

U Ye Linn Myint said the government also needs to be more transparent about the project’s status and its major investors.

“Though Ital-Thai say they have withdrawn from the project, they are still there. And now Japan is reportedly interested. DDA wants the government to solve these problems before the developer changes so that the situation doesn’t become even more complicated.”

Neither the government nor Ital-Thai could be contacted for comment last week.