Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – For the past three months, Karen National Union officials have blocked construction on a road linking the Dawei Development Project to Thailand, after concerns over environmental impacts and complaints from residents who were forced to relocate.
Officials and environmental impact experts representing the Italian-Thai Development (ITD) group met with KNU officials on December 28 to try to restart the road construction, according to KNU Myeik-Dawei District chief Pado Saw Gwe Htoo Win.
KNU officials halted the construction because of overall environmental concerns about the massive deep-sea port project near Tavoy in southern Burma, and about the process of the forced relocations and confiscations of plantations and gardens, which have been purchased at lower-than-normal prices, residents said.
The KNU, which controls an area near the project, has been engaged in skirmishes in its control area. In July, road workers were forced to flee to Thailand after fighting broke out between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and government troops. Fighting flared again last month near Myitta, on the road’s route, highlighting the dangers to construction workers.
The projected road will link up to Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The ITD company wants the KNU to allow road construction to resume and to provide security for the project.
KNU Mega Project Research Committee chairman General Pado Saw Mutu Sayo, secretary Pado Dadomu and member Pado Saw David Taw attended the meeting held on the Thai-Burmese border. Pado Saw Gwe Htoo Win attended the meeting as a KNU regional official.
Representing ITD were Vice Chairman Anan Amarapala, a project assessment team from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and environmentalists, who explained the project at the meeting.
“They talked about the company’s plan, the impact on the natural environment and how they’ve conducted the environmental assessments. They also explained how they would pay compensation for the social impact,” Pado Saw Gwe Htoo Win told Mizzima.
Based on a 2010 impact report, ITD said that while the project would adversely affect the natural environment, the company would minimize damages and pay compensation for loss of homes, businesses and land, according to Pado Saw Gwe Htoo Win.
Estimates of displaced residents range from 30,000 by activists to 10,000 by company officials. ITD showed designs for small, medium and large homes for relocated residents. Residents told Mizzima that ITD planned to build 1,000 homes valued at about 15 million kyat each (about US$ 19,000) in Bwa Village, one of the four new villages to serve residents of 21 villages that will be relocated. The cash compensation for more than 100,000 acres of confiscated plantations or gardens was three times lower than current prices, residents said.
The KNU didn’t make a decision during the meeting, but said it would gather more information from residents and discuss the issue.
In May 2008, the foreign ministers of Burma and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding on the US$ 58 billion project. The Dawei Development Project includes construction of industrial zones, a new city, deep-sea ports, a chemical fertilizer plant, a coal-fired power plant, a steel plant, chemical fuel plants, oil refineries, ship maintenance buildings, a railroad, roads and oil and natural gas pipelines. The environmental impact on the overall area will be massive, say environmentalists.