KNU gives green light to Italian-Thai Dawei road construction

The Karen National Union is considering allowing the Italian-Thai Development Company to build a road linking Burma’s Tavoy Special Economic Zone to Thailand after a meeting between the KNU and company representatives on December 28.

Saw Kwe Htoo Win, KNU chairman of the Mergui-Tavoy District and the KNU’s representative in meetings with the Italian-Thai explained to Karen News.

“The company [ITD] presented [to the KNU] their planned impact assessment. We [the KNU] will consider the proposal and make a decision. Their impact assessment plans have to meet an international standard. The KNU will further discuss how can we monitor their implementation. Meanwhile we may allow them to continue their work while monitoring the situation.”

The Italian-Thai Development Company impact assessment proposal is in response to a meeting with members of the KNU’s committee of economic development assessment. Attending the meeting were representatives of the Italian-Thai Company, led by its vice-president, Mr Anan Amarapala, and its impact assessment team from Chulalongkorn University and selected environmentalists. The company and its team presented to the KNU the project impact assessment – it included, the building of the Dawei (aka Tavoy) industrial zone, major road construction and the building of the hydro-dam in Klo Hta.

A KNU source told Karen News that the Italian-Thai Development Company proposed to the KNU that a committee should be formed that will be the contact group for the company. The committee would especially deal with security issues that may delay the construction, as this is ITD’s main concern.

According to KNU sources attending the meetings, the KNU have unofficially agreed to allow ITD to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) over six months and to allow the road construction access to the area for further surveys.

The Italian-Thai Development Company is a Thai owned company that is developing the $60 billion mega Tavoy/Dawei Development Project in Tavoy, Southern Burma. The project includes a deep-sea port, a 250-square-kilometer light and heavy industrial zone, a 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant, and railways links to the Thai border in Kanchanaburi. The super highway system will also have transmission lines and oil and gas pipelines constructed alongside it.

In the initial stages of the project the ITD refused to meet with the KNU, but following the KNU’s blockage of survey work on construction project the company approached the KNU for talks. In September the KNU stopped construction after villagers affected by the project voiced their concerns that the project would have a negative impact on the environment and that many thousands of local villagers from more than 20 villages would be forcibly evicted from their homes.

The planned area for the Dawei/Tavoy project is in a conflict zone. Company workers are worried about their security after being caught in the crossfire between the Burma Army and Karen fighters. A KNU source told Karen News that ITD have played down the threat to the Thai media, but privately are worried about increased conflict in the region.

A Karen environmentalist, Saw Paw, who was present at the meeting, told Karen News.

“My main concern is the impact to the environment and to villagers social cultural life. I asked the company to use free and independent consultants that are free and independent from threats issued by the Burma Army. The company [ITD] also needs to give more time to get villagers to participate and they need to have public hearings. The company needs to release their [the EIA and SIA] reports and get comments from different environmental experts.”

Saw Paw says the company needs to allow more time for the EIA and SIA. “The company’s time for EIA is too limited and I don’t think the EIA survey will be completed. The project needs to be debated more. I ask them [ITD] to at least follow Thai environmental law and to apply it in Burma – Burma lacks any environmental standards or controls – if they don’t, it will be disaster.”

Saw Paul said the company has indicated it will follow international standards.

“The international standard is only for a code of conduct, if the company does not follow it, nobody can take action against them for environmental or other destruction.”

The Italian-Thai Development chairman, Premchai Karnasuta, told reporters in Bangkok on 26 December, that the company expects to sign loan agreements in 2012 valued at $12.5 billion from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to develop a deep-sea port, industrial complex and power plants in Burma.

According to company construction workers, the ITD started transporting heavy equipment in mid-December from Kanchanaburi border to Tavoy needed for the building of the deep-sea port.

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