A group of farmers from Shan state issued a public call on Friday demanding that Burma’s government remove sections of the Shwe gas pipeline built on their land.
Representatives of the Northern Shan Farmers Committee sent an open letter to the Shan state parliament in Taunggyi citing environmental and human rights concerns regarding the twin oil and gas pipelines which are currently under construction.
When completed later this year the pipelines will transport gas and oil from Burma’s Arakan (Rakhine) coast to China’s Yunnan region, along some 800 KM of land largely expropriated from local farmers, including those from six townships in Shan state.
A report released on Friday by a coalition of Shan civil society organisations led by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), that was timed to coincide with the petition highlights the pipeline’s numerous controversies. This includes the seizures of more than 2000 acres of land and what critics call an inadequate and completely non-transparent compensation scheme.
According to Sai Khur Hseng, a spokesman for SHRF many of the farmers who received compensation for their land were forced to sell against their wishes and then compelled to hand 10 percent of the funds they received to local officials who demanded kickbacks. The amounts of compensation distributed to the farmers varied widely depending on where their farms were.
Farmers in Namkham closest to the Chinese border received 14 million Kyat per acre. While those further south in Namtu and Hsipaw received 3 to 5 million Kyat per acre. But Sai Khur Hseng and his collegues say even the largest amount of compensation paid out to the farmers was below market rates and completely insufficient.
Another major concern for the farmers is the environmental impact that the pipeline will have on the land their land which the pipelines will pass through. Pipelines throughout the world are infamous for leaking and contaminating nearby farm land. The Shwe gas pipelines appear to be at serious risk for leaks in Shan state as they cross heavy salt deposits north of Hsipaw.
The farmers worry that the salt will corrode the pipes, a concern that has so far been ignored by both the Burmese government and and China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), the state-owned Chinese firm leading the consortium building the pipeline project.
The farmers say they were never invited to public consultations about the pipeline project nor were they given any opportunity to voice their concerns.
“We feel like a time-bomb has been placed under our homes,” said Nang Mwe Hseng a farmer from Namkham who was quoted in the press release accompanying the report. “Not only have our lands been taken without our consent, but our lives are now under threat,” he said.
The ongoing fighting in northern Shan state between government forces and armed ethnic groups is also a major concern for those monitoring the pipeline’s development. As recently as late last month clashes between Burma’s military and forces from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), took place in an area next to the pipeline corridor.
Throughout the past few years the military has also fought frequently with the troops from the Shan State Army North and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in territory close to the pipeline. The continued fighting in Shan state poses a major risk for the pipeline, warned an oil industry security specialist during a recent interview with the Interfax news service.
“Running an over-ground gas pipeline in a location where an armed conflict taking place is absolutely unadvisable; an explosion could easily be caused by a stray bullet. If the pipeline is penetrated it will explode, causing it – and the surrounding area – significant damage” said Michael Oxlade, a consultant with Westminster International, a UK based firm that specializes in providing security services for global oil operations.