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22-28 July: Shwe Gas Pipeline, A Sign of Things to Come

July 29, 2013

Shwe Pipeline by VOAOn 28 July, Burma’s Ministers of Energy, the Vice President, the Ambassador of China and a representative from South Korea started the Shwe Oil and Gas Pipeline. It was reported that when the “torches flamed in the sky of Namkham Measuring Station of [Burma]-China Gas Pipeline, a storm of applause and cheers broke out on the ceremony site and Namkham Metering Station.” This image is disturbing: representatives from China, international business and the government of Burma cheered the flames, but no such excitement was felt among the local communities or representatives from social or environmental groups in ethnic areas.

The dual pipelines will travel almost 800km, beginning in Arakan State, passing through Magway and Mandalay Regions and exiting Burma through Northern Shan State. They will cross through various ethnic nationality areas as well as diverse ecosystems, from jungles to mountain ranges.

The pipelines will also traverse ongoing ethnic conflict areas. As recently as April, an international security consultant advised against opening the pipeline due to its path through conflict areas, and warned of the potential for catastrophe.

Civil society has continually highlighted the severe environmental destruction resulting from the project, the increased military presence and associated human rights violations, and the exclusion of local groups and affected communities. The pipelines will supply the government of Burma with multi-billion dollar revenues and a power hungry China, but little gas and oil will be directed for domestic consumption.

Local communities have overwhelmingly objected to the project and groups monitoring the project have documented numerous human rights violations and irreversible environmental impacts. Little consultation has occurred with affected communities and the harm mitigation policies that should be undertaken with a project of this scope have been notably absent.

The start of the Shwe Gas Pipeline is coming at the same time as numerous other large scale development projects are being implemented, such as the resumption of the Letpadaung Copper Mine, a new plan and funding for the Tavoy Deep Sea Port project, and a search for investors for road projects.

Sadly problems show no sign of abating. One of the previous issues with the Letpadaung mine was that there was no public consultation. The government of Burma and the Wan Bao Company just restructured their contract again with no public consultation or input from affected villagers: “In the past there were problems because they signed the contract without informing the public,” said Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker and member of the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the mining project after the crackdown. “Now they have done it again, failing to inform the public.”

Large-scale development projects have the potential to improve the lives of citizens in impoverished areas; the focus must be on this goal, the goal of improvement for the people of Burma, not the benefit to military or corrupt officials, not Chinese resource companies and not multi-national businesses. Burma has one of the lowest levels of access to power anywhere in the world yet the vast majority of the oil and natural gas from the dual pipelines will be exported. The emergence of international business previously denied entry into Burma comes with the expectation that best business practices and international standards will be maintained; yet local communities are not consulted, land is confiscated and the environment destroyed. How this development takes place and who develops are questions that will shape Burma as much as the dictators of the past and sadly have just as much potential for destruction for generations to come.

News Highlights

President Thein Sein pardons 73 political prisoners and reshuffles the cabinet

Inside Burma

Parliament forms a 109-member committee to review the 2008 Constitution and will allocate budget to support peace effort

Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann says that criticism of the Burma Army is prohibited in parliamentary deliberations, which is criticized by Rakhine Nationalities Democratic Party MP Pe Than

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attends a meeting of the Union Peace Working Committee at the Myanmar Peace Center for the first time

Fighting resumes between the Burma Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Kachin Independence Army in Northern Shan State and Burma Army soldiers torch 20 homes after intruding in the New Mon State Party’s territory

The Kachin Independence Organisation reopens its liaison office in Myitkyina

The Karen National Liberation Army, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council agree in principle to unite military forces

The Interim Press Council and the Ministry of Information reach no agreement on the draft media law

A lawyer representing Rohingyas in Arakan State claims that the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party is threatening him and IDPs claim that police are conducting nighttime raids to confiscate laptops and smartphones in camps near Sittwe

The Farmer’s Network criticizes the proposed farmer enhancement law

Letpadaung Copper Mine set to resume operations in the next two months

Rojana Industrial Park joins Italian-Thai Development to develop the industrial estate of the Tavoy Deep Sea Port


Senior Chinese military official visits Burma

Fishermen rescue 68 Rohingya asylum seekers off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia


UN faces “serious funding shortfall” for humanitarian relief in Kachin State

UK denies breaching arms embargo through export licenses


Britain Surely Knows How Bad Things are for Burma’s Minorities. So Why Do We Keep Diplomatic Relations?
By Emanuel Stokes
The Independent

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights