Villagers at a public meeting attended by government ministers, political organisations, community groups and developers called for new impact assessments to be carried out on the Dawei Special Economic Zone.
Villagers from Ka Loat Hta made their request at a special meeting at Dawei Town Hall on December 5th. More than 300 people attended the meeting that was organized by the government. Villagers are concerned that they will be relocated because of plans to dam local rivers to provide a reservoir for Dawei deep seaport and industry zone.
The public meeting is the first that government ministers have held with local people in the Na Bu Le area where the deep seaport and a 204.5 square kilometers industry zone will be built.
U Phone Swe, the Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, chaired the public meeting and said in his opening speech.
“The government is taking responsibility for the people’s security and development. I would like to specially say that we don’t want to see any obstacle stopping the project. This meeting is to try to find ways to resolves the problems.”
U Ka Myint from Ka Loat Hta village addressed the meeting and said.
“We don’t want to make trouble for the government’s economic development. We are asking the government to re-evaluate the building of the dam in the Ka Loat Hta area. We earn our living from agriculture. If the dam is built all our farmland, plantations, the natural environment and the rare wildlife will disappear.”
U Ka Myint said the villagers depend on the forests and the rivers.
“The rivers give life to not only the Ka Loat Hta villagers, but also to the many other villagers who live along the length of the rivers. We urge the government to redo its Environmental Impact and Social Impact Assessments using experts from inside and outside the country.”
The villagers and activists urged the government to rethink its plans to dam the rivers and to find an alternative way that would not destroy the environment.
Attending the meeting was the Chief Minister of Taninthanyi Division U Myat Ko, Dawei based academics, non-governmental organisations, local authorities, members of various political parties, business people, Dawei town elders, village authorities and the Italian-Thai Development Company.
The Dawei Development Project includes a deep seaport, a light and heavy industrial zone, a coal-fired power plant and highways and railway links connecting Dawei to Kanchanaburi on the Thai border.
The Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) is a Thai owned company that is responsible for developing the $60billion Dawei Development Project. In November the Thai and Burmese governments met to find ways to speed up the project.
It is estimated that 17 villages and as many as 23,000 people will be relocated to three relocation sites – Bawah, Bagawzun and Pantin-inn.
It is planned that the deep seaport and industry zone will be built on native land that belongs to the indigenous Tavoyan people in Na Bu Le, the coastal area in the west of Dawei Town.
At the meeting government officials faced tough opposition and a series of critical questions from local people who will be evicted from their homes. Most of the questions from the public were do with relocation and compensation.
U Soe Win from Htein Gyi village spoke at the meeting and said.
“In my village many people do not want to relocate. They asked me to come here and to ask the authorities that if they do not move out, will the government arrest them? We want to know if there are any laws that allow the government to arrest us for refusing to be relocated.”
U Hlaing Myint, from Mu Doo village who attend the meeting spoke to Karen News.
“Villagers are not satisfied with the compensation offered by the company. The company’s compensation is not fair. Even if they [company] build houses for us in relocation site, they can’t compare to our houses – my house is built on hard sand. The house we are being offered will not last long. We have to move to relocation sites that have no land for our plantations or farmland. We will become landless, unemployed and will face many difficulties. We cannot rebuild our life with the compensation they are offering us – we want a fairer compensation to restart our lives.”
Villager U Hlain Myint said he has 25 acres of cashew nut plantation and it planned that he and other villagers from Mu Doo will be relocated to Bawah, where the ITD company is building new houses for each family. Mu Doo villager will be the first village to be relocated.
At the meeting officials said the lack of compensation was caused by a lack of finance available for the project. Local people said they were not convinced by that argument
Ko Kyaw Kyaw Thet said.
“The company needs to plan in advance for all the compensation costs. They [company] needs to compensate people at the same time. If they [company] don’t have the money it is better they do not invest – they should know this is a big project and the financial needs are big.”
Ko Kyaw Kyaw Thet said the project needed responsible investors and developers.
“From what we have seen from ITD’s actions, shows that they are not a good development model.”
U Aung Myo, representing local people from Na Bu Le at the meeting urged the government to be more open.
“The villagers don’t trust the government. They worry and are concerned about the project, they feel the government is only focused and working for the benefit of the developer. The project needs to be transparent to the public. All plans must be explained and consultation with the people before construction is started.”
U Aung Myo said the government must keep their promises to the local people.
Minister, U Phone Swe, closed the first meeting but said there was a need to have more public consultation to resolve the issues.