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Local Communities and Supporters Express Concerns About Development Projects in Burma

By Burma Partnership  •  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.

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