Attempts by Thai and Burmese officials to persuade Japan to invest in the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ) have ended fruitlessly, DVB has learned from a member of the Dawei SEZ management committee who asked to remain anonymous.
Representatives of the three nations met three times last week, the last meeting being on Friday, 27 September. The Japanese delegation was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Director-General of Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs Department Hidenao Yanagi. The meeting followed preliminary talks between Thai and Burmese delegations on 25 September, and Burmese and Japanese delegations on 26 September. At a previous meeting in Naypyidaw with Japanese upper house member Eriko Yamatani, Burmese president Thein Sein requested the Japanese government to assist and participate in the Dawei SEZ.
On September 26, Thailand and Burma announced that they had agreed to speed up the development of the Dawei industrial zone, following talks between Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Burma’s parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann, according to a report in the Bangkok Post.
Yingluck reportedly told Shwe Mann that officials from various state enterprises were currently conducting an economic study on infrastructure in Dawei, such as transportation and power and water supply.
“Thailand and Myanmar [Burma] must work together to move this project forward and inform the public about the benefits of the Dawei deep-sea port,” the Thai premier was reported as saying.
In the meantime, various local NGOs and civic groups have reiterated their opposition to the construction of the SEZ in Tavoy, or Dawei as the coastal town is officially known, situated in Tenasserim division on the Andaman Sea.
On 26 September, the Tavoyan Women’s Union (TWU) claimed that the Thai and Burmese developers are abusing local villagers’ rights and called for an immediate suspension of the project.
In a 15-minute video released to media, the TWU explained how the pristine beauty of the Tavoyan coast is being ravaged while the cultural heritage of the Tavoyan people is being threatened by the port and industrial zone, which was contracted to Thai construction giant Italian-Thai Development Public Co Ltd (ITD) in 2008.
“Two thousand people from six villages are to be evicted after the rainy season to make way for the first stage of the project,” the TWU report said. “In total, 30,000 people will have to move from 19 villages in the Nebule area.”
It was also reported that locals in the village of Yinboat in Tavoy have banded together to protest the building of an oil refinery project in their township.
Three hundred residents gathered on 24 September with posters citing a speech by President Thein Sein and principles laid down by the Myanmar Investment Commission which call for environmentally friendly investment.
“The employees working for us at the factory are people, not robots. If the poison gas comes out from the factory, the employees will be the ones who suffer first-hand. I had health results for a number of employees who suffered respiratory tract infections,” said a senior monk from Lay Tun Khan monastery in Yinboat.
A week earlier, villagers gathered to protest against the construction of a highway which will connect the Dawei SEZ to Kanchanaburi in Thailand.
According to a local civic group, Community Sustainable Livelihood and Development, 38 families have still not been compensated for the loss of their land due to the highway construction between the towns of Thitgadon and Myitta in 2010.
ITD did not respond to DVB’s request for comment on the various issues.