Bulldozers without responsibility

Villagers in Myawaddy Township, Dooplaya District, Karen State, have mixed feelings about road building taking place in their area. Villagers say responsible development that brings benefits to all the people is welcome, but they worry that there is a lack of consultation or planning being done.

Htee Mu Hta village is not unlike other communities in Karen State at rice harvest time. Villagers are hard at work in their rice paddy, plantations and fruit orchards. The work is hard, but the people can see the rewards of their labor.

This year a new din has shattered the usual rural sounds of barking dogs, birds singing and sudden gusts of wind rattling through the dried leaves. This week large earthmoving equipment has moved into the area. Bulldozers have cut a swathe through plantations, knocking down seven-year-old betel nut trees like chopsticks.

Saw Yer now 57, was born in Htee Mu Hta. The sight of bulldozers knocking down his betel nut trees for a new road has left him pondering the potential benefits and disadvantages of the project.

“If it is for the common good, it is okay. If they destroy our plantation or farm, we should be consulted and paid compensation for our loss. If it is the loss of some betel nut trees for a road that benefits all of us I don’t mind, but if it is the destruction of my durian plantation that has taken more than 10 years to cultivate then I do mind.”

The bulldozers are working in the Htee Mu Hta village area putting in supply roads to the main highway that is planned to link Myawaddy to Kawkariek.

The villagers concerns have been picked up by local Karen National Union office and have asked the construction company to suspend their road building activities until further consultations have taken place.

The Myawaddy Township Forestry and Land Registration Departments joined with other local authorities to observe the construction.

The Htee mu Hta villagers concerns about the road construction are not without grounds. The Karen Human Rights Group reported in April 2012 about the situation in Bu Tho Township in Papun District. The KHRG stated that villagers had their lands confiscated for the construction of a road.

“The powerful people [Burma government] built a vehicle road, camps, and rubber plantations that have impacted the villagers negatively. The Tatmadaw did development projects in Papun city, such as building a battalion camp, which required the confiscation of the villagers’ land on both sides of the vehicle road from Meh T’Roh to T’Koo Teh.” Villagers acknowledge that Karen State does need roads and infrastructure, but they say they need to be consulted with and compensated for any losses they incur.

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