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The company behind a key road that will link Thailand to a massive deep-sea port and industrial complex under construction in southern Burma must carry out an environmental impact assessment before work continues on the trade route, the Karen National Union (KNU) has said.
The group, whose armed wing controls territory close to the Tavoy construction zone and which has been involved in several flare-ups near the route of the road, met with the Thai engineering giant Ital-Thai Development Ltd at a location on the Thai-Burma border late last month.
Up to 30,000 people are facing relocation to make way for the 200 square-kilometre industrial complex that will accompany the port in Tenasserim divison, and which is set to be Southeast Asia’s largest industrial zone, replete with petrochemical plants, plastics factories and oil refineries.
Work has already begun on the road, but has been hampered by instability. In July last year around 50 construction workers labouring on the road were forced to flee into Thailand after fighting broke out between troops from the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and the Burmese army close to their camp.
Last month a gun battle broke out, again between the KNLA and government troops, close to the town of Myitta, through which the road will pass, once again highlighting the volatility of large-scale infrastructural ventures in Burma.
The General Secretary of the KNU, Zipporah Sein, told Karen News last year that it regards Ital-Thai as a “military dictatorship-backed company” and would not refrain from resisting the project until the armed group grants Ital-Thai permission to continue work.
Ital-Thai representatives told the KNU at the meeting last month however that only 10,000 people would be displaced, all of whom would be compensated.
A commander of the KNLA’s Brigade 4 in Tenasserim division told DVB however that although the group was allowing food and supplies to construction workers in jungle camps close to the road, it would still “stop” any building work being done.
Despite efforts to negotiate a ceasefire with several armed groups, the Burmese army is increasing its presence in the country’s southern Tenasserim division where the port, which will be able to accommodate 55 vessels at any one time, is being built.
The effect on the local environment is likely to be significant, with a 3,000 MW coal-fired power plant also due for construction. Around 200 locals from Maungmagan beach, close to where the plant will be, were briefed at a workshop run by the non-governmental Dawei [Tavoy] Regional Development Group about the possible negative impacts.
“We are explaining to them a coal plant is going to be constructed there and the likely negative impacts caused by it so they can decide whether or not to accept it,” said an member of the DRDG.
The group last month held a press conference in Rangoon to gauge public opinion on the development, and said a letter was sent to President Thein Sein describing the possible fallout from the project.