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27 February – 4 March: Local Communities and Supporters Express Concerns About Development Projects in Burma

March 5, 2012

As Thein Sein’s government takes small steps towards democratic transition, the people of Burma are expressing concerns about problematic development projects already underway. These projects, many of which are in ethnic states, directly contribute to human rights violations and increased militarization in project areas, as well as having negative social, economic and environmental impacts.

On 1 March, activists from Burma and around the world participated in a Global Day of Action against the Shwe Gas Pipeline Project that cuts across the country from western Arakan State to China. One hundred and thirty organizations from more than 20 countries signed an open letter to President Thein Sein calling for the suspension of the Shwe Gas project. The letter condemned the confiscation of thousands of acres of farmlands and restriction of access to traditional fishing areas for the project, as well as increased militarization and displacement along the pipeline corridor. The project will generate the country’s largest source of foreign revenue at US$29 billion over 30 years. Furthermore, the gas will be exported to China, while around 75% of the people in Burma do not receive electricity from the national grid.

“Resentment to these pipelines is growing day by day, Thein Sein should listen to the will of the people,” said Wong Aung, Coordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement. “Under the current unaccountable structure, gas monies from the project will only feed corruption and not benefit the people,” said Wong Aung, International Coordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement.

Demonstrations against the pipeline project were held in Kyauk Phyu and Rangoon inside Burma, Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, as well as the Philippines, Japan, and Bangladesh. See photos from the protests here. Protesters referred to the previous suspension of the Myitsone dam and Tavoy coal-fired plant and called for a consistent policy of social and environmental accountability.

However, recent developments in these projects might not be as positive as they had first appeared. Local researchers with the Kachin Development Networking Group have reported that the Myitsone dam project continues, with construction of roads and bridges as well as half a dozen smaller dams still underway. None of the more than 2,000 villagers who were forcibly relocated to make way for the dam have been allowed to return home.

While the coal-fired power plant in Tavoy has been suspended for the time being, other parts of the project are still underway. Last week at a forum organized by the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development of Chiang Mai University, a Karen villager spoke about how his community is already suffering from the construction of the road that will link the Tavoy Deep Sea Port to Thailand. Without any consultation, villagers are being told they will have to leave their homes to make way for the road, but they have received no compensation as of yet. In response, local people from 12 villages have established a committee that convenes every month to coordinate how to protect their rights and express their concerns about their livelihoods and the local environment. In December 2011, residents from 19 villages also protested against relocation notices and unfair compensation connected with the Tavoy Deep Sea Port project.

At a press conference today calling for peace and a federal union, representatives of Karen people around the world also expressed their concerns about development projects in Karen areas, including the Tavoy-Thailand road.

The people’s calls on these projects are the same: community rights and the environment must be protected, affected peoples must share in the benefits, and transparency and accountability mechanisms must be in place. Until such conditions exist, Burma’s development projects must be suspended. All investors must take into consideration these concerns from local people, and ensure that their businesses and projects incorporate international best practices and principles of sustainable development that benefit all the people of Burma.

News Highlights

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says reforms are not irreversible, warns against being too optimistic and says that she wants to promote trust between the people and the Burma Army

An estimated 100,000 people gather in Mandalay to support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during her campaign trip to the city but the NLD was again denied permission to give speeches in two townships this week

Inside Burma

Union Election Commission approves NLD candidates for by-elections

President Thein Sein gives a speech before the Parliament to mark the first anniversary of his government taking office and highlights the importance of national reconciliation; prominent activist Ko Ko Gyi says he must now go beyond words particularly with regards to the rule of law

Kachin Independence Organization to resume talk with Naypyidaw at the China-Burma border (Burmese)

The United Nationalities Federal Council says the United Wa State Army and Shan State Army–South will take part in joint “political dialogue” with the government once ceasefires have been agreed to

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army says it is ready for “reconciliation talks” with Naypyidaw

Fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Border Guard Force in the Myaing Gyi Ngu area, Karen State, kills two women and injures one man; tension between the two armed groups has forced at least 50 villagers to flee

Members of around 20 households face up to three months in prison for refusing a government order to relocate from their homes near Naypiydaw

The regime drops visa ban on exiled reporters working for the Democratic Voice of Burma

Regional

According to a new report from several American organisations, an estimated 100,000 Chin refugees living in Mizoram State, India, need immediate humanitarian attention

Up to one million migrants from Burma face deportation if they fail to complete Thailand’s national verification procedure by 14 June

International

UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for Burma, Vijay Nambiar, says the UN has reached an agreement with government officials to reach out to displaced civilians in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army

Assistant Administrator of the UN Development Programme says reforming Burma should avoid “sweetheart deals”

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Opinions

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Statements and Press Releases

ကခ်င္ျပည္နယ္ ျငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးအတြက္ ျမစ္ၾကီးနားပဲ့တင္သံ
By 88 Generation Students

Philippine Activists Call to Postpone Gas and Trans-Burma Pipeline Projects; Urge Thein Sein Regime to Exercise Social and Environmental Responsibility
By Free Burma Coalition-Philippines

KNU – ကရင္အမ်ဳိးသားအစည္းအရံုး ေခါင္းေဆာင္ႏွင့္ျမန္မာ အစိုးရ ေတြ႕ဆံုျခင္းႏွင့္ပတ္သက္၍ သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Karen National Union

Karen People Worldwide Call for Genuine Peace and a Federal Union of Burma
By Karen National Unity Committee

Statement from Karen Worldwide Conference
By Karen National Unity Committee

Campaigners Around the World Call to Postpone Destructive Chinese Pipelines in Burma
By Shwe Gas Movement

Reports

Burma’s Weekly Political News Summary (110-2012) (Burmese)
By Network for Democracy and Development

This post is in: Weekly Highlights

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