A lack of participation and a lack of respect for the community condemned / The issue shall be raised for discussion at the ASEAN human rights forum/ Dawei people lamenting Thai investors and government for taking advantage over their vulnerabilities
On 10 June 2013, Sulak Sivaraksa, Thailand’s noted social critic, Dr. Nirand Pitackwatchara, a National Human Rights Commissioner, and Mr. Seree Nonthasut, Thailand Delegation in the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) visited Burma’s Dawei. The area is slated to be developed into Dawei Special Economic Zone including Deep Sea Port and comprehensive industrial complex. Led by Mr. Sivaraksa, the group went to meet with local villagers located in the construction area to listen to any problems and impacts. They also got to exchange with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) based in Dawei.
According to Mr. Sivaraksa, he met with Buddhist monks in a couple of temples and several villages in Dawei area. He found local people were very strong and that the area is not suitable for developing any industrial complex or Deep Sea Port. It is important that local people’s voices are heard prior to the implementation of any project. Until now, both the Thai government and Italian-Thai Development Public Co., Ltd. (ITD) failed to provide due respect to local villagers. They simply want to get rich and powerful. Worse still, Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, the Prime Minister, is using public monies to invest in this project.
“Yesterday, we had food together at the Muangmagan beach, a very beautiful beach. The villagers told us that Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra (former Thai PM) came here by boat a couple of times. These people do not care about community rights or the villagers’ poverty. During our talk this morning, several intelligence officers and ITD staff also came to listen to us. It showed, however, an improved atmosphere in Burma. Such a thing could not have happened in the past” said Mr. Sivaraksa.
Mr. Sivaraksa also said that the trip to Dawei this time would not be a waste of time. Upon returning, he and the National Human Rights Commission shall invite various concerned parties including ITD and the Thai government to give their information and monks from Dawei will be invited to speak, as they are speak very well. NHRC is authorized to carry out investigation, though the violation of rights takes place abroad, but it is committed by Thai citizens. And as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) is to hold a meeting soon, Mr. Seree promised to raise the issue in the meeting. He hopes that such monitoring and news report will pressure ITD to behave better.
Meanwhile, last week, a group of media people from Thailand went to Dawei to participate in a trip by Transboder News, sponsored by Thailand’s Health Promotion Foundation. They were conducting their investigative report and collecting information in Dawei including various aspects, particularly after both governments from Thailand and Burma have set up the special purpose vehicle (SPV), which has changed the project contractor from ITD to the Thai government.
The media group from Thailand got to meet with Dawei CSOs, representatives from land right group and ethnic group, the National League for Democracy (NLD), peasant group, and Buddhist group. Ms. Pete Law, a Karen woman, and Ms. Mar Lar, from the Tavoy Women’s Union said that since the commencement of the Dawei Special Economic Zone and the opening of border cross between Thailand and Burma, narcotic problems have increased. Obviously, now more children get addicted. Meanwhile, land along the route to be paved as a road link between Dawei and Kanchanaburi, has been subjected to rampant land grabbing by investors. The land belongs to local villagers under protection of the Karen National Union (KNU). Now, investors contact the central government to buy the land and they do not care that the land has been occupied by local people. As a result, a number of villagers have lost their land, which has been inherited from their ancestors.
“My friends who work for ITD told me that they are getting prepared to blast the mountain to build the access and the economic complex. A lot of dynamite has been procured to blast the mountain and the rocks will be supplied to the quarry plant. We feel gravely concerned about the environmental degradation, particularly in area close to the watershed. Before, the villagers thought the project might bring some benefit to them. But eventually, they got nothing from it. The workers even bring their own food and water supplies” said the Karen woman.
The representative from the Tavoy Women’s Union said that just at the beginning of construction, the villagers have already suffered a lot. For example, the villagers by the coast where the construction causes a lot of noise and make a lot of marine life to swim away. Workers from outside also look down on local women. She fears that if the construction becomes full-fledged, it will give rise to sex industry and other social ramifications.
Nwe Ni Thein, representative from the NLD, said that since the project has started, more traffic accidents have been increasing in the city of Dawei. Meanwhile, with the influx of better quality vegetables and fruits from Thailand, local farmers have to bear the brunt. She finds people who stand to benefit from this project are people with high education. But local people will barely benefit anything from it and have no idea where they shall move to.
Tun Kyaw Maung, from a human rights group and member of the 88 Generation Students Group said that most people in Dawei feel concerned about the eminent impacts and they have not been informed about the project. But as investors and business persons have better information, they have started to massively buy the land. It is important that an emphasis be placed on public participation and access to information.
“We criticize the Burmese government as they had put the villagers under dictatorial regime for so many decades. They had to live a very difficult life. The Thai investors grabbed the opportunity to sign a contract with the Burmese military regime prior to the general elections. The Thai government simply took advantage while we were still weak. And the project has been implemented with a lack of transparency. Governments of both countries have shown no transparency. One good thing about it is the situation has prompted all concerned sectors in Dawei to rise up. We want to tell the Thai government that both Burma and people in Dawei are not ready. Why has the Thai government not given us information and collectively reviewed the project with us? We should chart the course of direction together as far as the development in Dawei is concerned. It should help us make the right decision and see if we should follow your model. You should give due respect to us as we are the host of the country”, said a former activist from the 88 Generation.
In addition, the media group was taken to visit Kalonethar, the village which shall be affected by the construction of Talineyar Dam to keep water supplies to feed the industrial complex. They also suffer from road construction to develop a link between the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Kanchanaburi. According to Ven. Piaw Yawoso, abbot of Kalonethar Temple, in the past one year, there has been no indication of dam construction by ITD, after more than 900 villagers gathered to protest against the dam project. They used spray color to paint signs and symbols against the dam there.
The abbot of Kalonethar Temple also said that progress has been made on the construction of road link and power grids to Thailand and the construction has moved closer to the village. Representatives from politicians and officers from various cities came here to negotiate with him so that he can convince local people to sign the consent forms and to move out. It happened during December 2012, though none of the villagers agreed to sign the papers.
“They have been employing various tactics. Sometimes, they sent me a letter and tricked me to sign it. They sent a number of documents to the villagers and tricked them to sign the papers in order to allow the project to go ahead. But we all knew about it so we are able to protect our village until now. The route of the transmission lines cuts through farmland and residential area making the community to fall apart. It also affects sources of livelihood of local people. Around April 2012, when the villagers were protesting the project, ITD reported to the police and asked them to arrest us. I had to negotiate with the authority and explained to them that the villagers had been protesting peacefully and have caused no violence. It made the officers understand better and agreed to let the villagers of the hook” said Ven. Piawya.
Ven. Piawya also said that around late May, he invited both the police officers and the villagers to meet again. It was aimed at keeping both understanding why opposition is mounting against Kalonethar Dam and the construction of road link between Thailand and Burma to pave the way for industrialization. So mainly, the villagers fear the project will be destructive to their livelihood including their farmland and orchards, which have been grown by the villagers for a long time. The negotiation helped to increase mutual understanding between the two parties, though dispute between ITD and the villagers still remains. The company has tried to trick the villagers by giving them false information to get them to sign a letter of consent. As a result, about 50 villagers signed up the papers, whereas the rest, 375, are still opposed to the project.
“ITD has employed many tricks. They do not just pressure the villagers, but they even complained to the Ecclesiastical Council claiming that I have been misbehaving. But the monk authority understands me and does not bother with me. In fact, I am also a member of the monk council. I simply want the villagers to be aware and to preserve their community and their farmland. If any people want to rob it from us, we have to defend ourselves” said Ven. Piawya.
U La Sen, a villager from Kalonethar said that ITD offered to build a brand new, modern and clean school and to offer a new house if the villagers agree to move out. But ITD must be aware that we have been living with our noble culture and our school is warmly held by community. We have no fear and we shall not be tricked by them. We have the right to defend our village and resources. Everyone in the village holds faith and belief in the idea and leadership of Ven. Piawya and feels confident that he can help to preserve the culture of Kalonethar. Therefore, we shall move nowhere and are opposed the construction of dam and road.