Locals walk out of meeting on Environment Impact Assessment for a project on Thai-Dawei road development, demanding that Italian-Thai Co., Ltd. solve project-related problems before continuing road construction directly through their villages. Impartiality of Chulalongkorn University academics doubtful. KNU leaders request renegotiation between the company and affected villagers. Many villagers who will be forced to move demand the right to stay in their homeland. An appeal letter has been submitted to President Thein Sein to inform him of these facts. Translated from http://transbordernews.in.th/home/?p=707
Area set aside for dam construction for future electricity production A group of reporters supported by Trans border news organization went to investigate the troubled area and find out about the Dawei Development Project taking place in Dawei District, Myanmar. Italian-Thai Development PLC has received a concession from the Myanmar government in a 250 sqkm area to develop a deep sea port, an economic zone around the port, and construct a road, railway and gas pipe system linking to Thailand. This inspection focused on local communities that were impacted by the project, including interviews with academics and specialists in Dawei. During the trip on 30 March to Tabewchaung Village, one of the villages affected by the DaweiKanchanaburi road construction project, the reporters met with representatives from ItalianThai PCL who came with a group of academics from Chulalongkorn University. This group of academics was in charge of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and was having a meeting with local villagers to gather information, which is one of the processes included in an EIA.
The abbot of Dharma Lekit Temple protests the forced relocation of villagers out of Kalontha village community. It is reported that the meeting was intense and stressful. All villagers, who were Karen, took turns to ask about solutions to their problems, with an interpreter translating into Thai. They argued that the construction of the road cut through their land, especially where they grow betel nut (their cash crop), and they have not been given the promised compensation. Furthermore, villagers questioned that the group of academics came with Italian-Thai PCL representatives, which raised doubts about the fairness/impartiality of the EIA, and if their responses to the survey would be used to make any appropriate adjustment or not. Some villagers said that many plots of land were already bought by investors. However, all 12 Karen villages agreed that they wouldnâ€™t sell their land. â€œWe are hosts, you are guests. Instead of respecting hosts, you guests order us to do this and that. If you were us, what would you think? When you came to work here, we always gave you a warm welcome. When we worked in Thailand, we had surveillance from policemen to comply with the Thai law. When you come here, please give us some respect.â€? A Karen woman villager said this with great emotion. Academics processing the EIA explained that although they travelled with the company, it was just for convenience. The company could respond to questions from villagers promptly. The EIA was prepared for the villagers, not for the company. An Italian-Thai PCL representative said the company would bring good things to the village, but also admitted that the company did not take care of the affected villagers well enough. The company will pay compensation and discuss with local villagers more from now on. However, the compensation requires some kind of evidence from villagers.
Older people from Ma Yin Gee village insist they die in their village. The reporter said the villagers weren’t happy with the explanation from Italian-Thai PCL’s representatives, because they felt that the company was not sincere as its representatives had used the same excuse for years, but still left the villagers in trouble. “The company failed to keep their promise to local villagers. If you want to continue this meeting, that’s fine. But I will leave.” Mr.Saw Koh, Director of Working Group for Sustainable Environment and Community in 12 villages was the last person who stood up, and then he walked out of the meeting room. The rest of the villagers walked out with him, resulting in the closure of the meeting. A reporter said that the walk out caused confusion among academics from Chulalongkorn University and the Italian-Thai PCL representatives. They tried to figure out the reason for the villagers’ disapproval, but as they spoke in Karen language, it remained unclear despite translation. However, after that the representative from Italian-Thai PCL tried to find Mr. Saw Koh and Karen community leader to clear the air but couldn’t find them.
Beautiful long beach which will become part of a petro-chemical industrial area The reporters requested an interview with the academics from Chulalongkorn University but were refused, and given the suggestion to instead interview the EIA Project Leader, Dr Kanlaya Soontornwongsakul, from the Environmental Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University. Academics said they were part of a research team that studies one part out of four processes in the EIA. The EIA is done according to academic guidelines. However, the villagers’ walk-out of the meeting might have been a result of miscommunication leading to misunderstanding and dissatisfaction. A reporter said that villagers were doubtful about the impartiality of the EIA because the academics came with Italian-Thai PCL representatives. The academics explained that they generally travelled independently, yet there had been numerous times that they weren’t able to answer questions from villagers and referred to the company’s representatives. Therefore, although they traveled to Dawei together this time, it didn’t mean that they were biased.
Area where villagers are to be relocated to According to Mr. Saw Koh, Italian-Thai PCL didn’t consider the villagers and kept postponing contact, even though the road construction cut through villagers’ gardens of betel nuts, which form part of their livelihood, but never compensated them for the damage caused. The villagers closed down the road but the company then built other parts of the road first and left the problem unsolved. Therefore this time the villagers will not allow the passage through their land any more until the company responds to the problem. “If they don’t construct the road, we can live without any problems. If they insist, we will tell the government the truth about the trouble we are in. If the company doesn’t do anything about the problem, they should stop the project. We have been living here for almost a hundred years. We have our administrative structure. They are new to the area, they should respect us. We don’t want any project that has a negative impact on local villagers.” Mr. Saw Koh said.
Villagers in fishing villages near the industrial area Mr. Tu Ye, Karen National Union (KNU), Marid-Dawei region, who observed the meeting, said Italian-Thai PCL once had a discussion with KNU board about the Kanchanaburi-Dawei road development project. KNU gave the company several suggestions, especially the issue about listening to and being fair with the villagers. Don’t do any thing that villagers do not approve of. But the company did not follow their suggestions, and caused problems until villagers closed down the road and stopped construction. Therefore, if Italian-Thai PCL continues the construction project, it needs to reconsider and negotiate with the villagers.
Mr. Tu Ye said the area that was designated for road construction used to be a fighting zone between Myanmar government and KNU. Hence, there is no clear rule or system. KNU never expected there would be such a megaproject in the area. KNU is not against development, but must take care of Karen villagers living in the zone. However, according to Myanmar’s ‘democracy’, everything in the soil, under water, and in the air in Myanmar is owned by the government. This means that villagers can live and work on the land but do not own it. While KNU law states that any population born in an area has the right to own and utilize their own land their whole life. Even the highest government authority has to ask the owner for his or her permission before utilizing the land.
Villagers and fishery in fishermen villages around industrial area “Italian-Thai PCL may follow Myanmar’s law, not the law that we are complying with. But the ones who are in trouble and have to fight are local villagers here. They feel that they have the right to defend themselves. In the past, KNU tried to live peacefully, as seen from accepting the negotiations for a cease fire with the Myanmar government. This issue might become a topic to be discussed with the Myanmar government,” Mr. Saw Koh said. A KNU leader said that Italian-Thai PCL working in this area, must respect the norms and traditions of the local communities instead of ignoring them. Villagers told him that the company destroyed plants (grown for cash) in their gardens last year but never gave any compensation. KNU had warned the company, but no action was taken. Therefore, if the company wants to continue the project, it requires renegotiation, and villagers must get benefits from this development as well. A reporter asked whether KNU had received any benefits from Italian-Thai PCL or not. Mr.Tu Ye said they had received some. Although they knew that this road construction would impact on their security, they still accepted it and negotiated with the Myanmar government because they wanted peace in the country. Nevertheless, if there are any projects that bring trouble to local villagers, they need to discuss and solve the problem together.
Area to build a deep seaport is being prepared for construction. Apart from surveying communities affected by the road construction, reporters went to investigate the situation in Kalonta Village, which will be affected by the dam construction on Taleya River to produce electricity to support Dawei Development Project. They interviewed the abbot of Dharma Lekit Temple, who said that currently villagers were worried and sad if they were forced to relocate from the area because, they had lived here and grown plants that provided income to them for a long time. If they had to relocate elsewhere, they would lose the land to earn their living. Moreover, it is unclear how the government and the company can help them.
Area to build a deep seaport is being prepared for construction. “Villagers do not trust the company to pay the compensation fairly at a reasonable amount. Because the land is their life, if they lose everything in their life and had to start over again, it wouldn’t be worth it. Now the government and Italian-Thai PCL told locals to move out, but at the same time, many plots of land are being bought by investors,” the Dharma Lekit Temple abbot said, and added that villagers had submitted a letter to the President Gen. Thein Sein because they didn’t want to relocate, but had not yet received a response.
Academics and Italian-Thai PCL representatives explaining to villagers about the impact from the road construction The reporters also went to Mayingyi Village, which is affected by petro-chemical industry development. U-Or Barza, the abbot of Mayingyi Temple said no one there wanted to move out. Villagers began to be affected after an announcement of a new project development in this area. Communities here live with the forest and earn their living from forest products, but outsiders began coming to buy forest land prohibited villagers from collecting wild products – although it was the forest that villagers had lived in and used for many generations. Ms. Mojee, a Mayingyi villager, said they wouldn’t leave their land in any case, no matter how much the company paid because they were happy living there where they had vegetables and fish without having to buy them. They didn’t have to work hard every day to earn their living and lived happily. They had a discussion within the village and agreed that they wouldn’t move out; and if they were forced to go, they would fight.
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