Villagers in southern Burma claim a local influential Karen and representatives of the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) want money of villagers in return for building a road.
A villager, *Naw Thu (not her real name), spoke to Karen News.
“At the end of last November, local villagers in the Kamoethway area, east of Tavoy, near where the Dawei-Kanchanaburi road passes through, asked officers from the Italian-Thai Development Company to improve the road from Kaw Htee Lor (Thabyu Chaung) to Wa Su Ko (Seik Pyone).”
Naw Thu alleges the ITD officers requested villagers provide “diesel for the road building.”
Villagers say it is unclear if the ITD officials were acting with the company having knowledge of their actions.
“Local people did not have enough money to pay for the diesel. A rich local influential Karen, Saw Ler Paw, claims he negotiated with the ITD officers to provide 60 barrels of diesel for the road construction.”
Maw Thu alleges Saw Ler Paw also negotiated with some of the village authorities on how the loan could be repaid.
“It was agreed that local villagers would pay back Saw Ler Paw. They agreed that the road construction would cost 8,000,000 kyat. In return Saw Ler Paw is to collect 50kyat of each viss (1.6kg) of betel nut harvested by villagers.”
Local people estimate that this year the money collected from the betel nut harvest from nine villages that have to pay tax to Saw Ler Paw will amount to as much as 84,000,000 kyat.
Naw Thu said.
“U Saw Paw said if he collected more than 8,000,000 kyat from the betal nut harvest it would be used to build a bridge.”
Naw Thu and other villagers say they do not believe all the tax from the villagers’ betel nut harvest will be used on the improvement of the village road.
Naw Thu claims the road maintenance work has given ITD officials and others the opportunity to make money at the villagers expense.
“We wanted the ITD to build the road for us for free, but we now have to hire them to do it. The influential middle man has taken advantaged of us as well.”
The ITD is developing the $60 billion Dawei Development Project that includes the building of a highway linking Burma’s Dawei and Thailand’s Kanchanaburi.