Madae Islanders to Protest Inauguration of Kyaukphyu Pipeline

By Khin Oo Tha 26 January 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The oil pipeline linking the Arakan State port of Kyaukphyu and China will commence operations on Jan. 30, with local residents planning a demonstration against land seizures and environmental damage at the project’s official inauguration.

Locals said a large contingent of police had been deployed on the island ahead of the opening ceremony for the deep-sea port’s oil pipeline, at which Vice-President Nyan Tun is expected to attend.

“We’ll air our grievances at the opening ceremony,” said Tun Kyi, the leader of the Madae Island Development Group. We are concerned that our waters will be affected by potential oil spills. Environmental conservation groups in Kyaukphyu are also worried.”

Madae Island villagers have complained that the deep-sea port constructed to service the Kyaukphyu special economic zone has caused environmental destruction, threatening local livelihoods without fulfilling promised economic benefits. A 2013 demonstration against the pipeline resulted in the imprisonment of 10 Madae Island community leaders for three months, and Tun Kyi told The Irrawaddy that some locals have yet to receive compensation for lands confiscated for the project.

In an attempt to curry favour with the Madae Island community, Arakan State Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn and Union Energy Minister Zeya Aung last week visited the island to give away mobile phones and fishing nets, according to Tun Kyi.

“They gave out three telephones worth around 110,000 kyats [US$108]—one to me, one to the abbot of the village monastery and one for community elders,” he said. “They also gave out fishing nets worth around 4,000 kyats [$3.90] to each household. We told them that the type of fishing net they gave was not suitable for the region, and the Chief Minister said they would take them back and give the village 10 million kyats [$9775] instead.”

During the official visit, locals expressed concerns at the possible impacts of oil tanker traffic in the port, leading Zeya Tung to assure those present that systematic measures would be taken to conserve the local environment.

The oil pipeline will channel shipments from the Middle East and Africa to China’s Yunnan Province and will operate in tandem with the Shwe gas pipeline. A joint venture between the Burmese Government and the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, the oil pipeline is slated to generate Burma US$22 million in revenue per year.

Agreements for dual 771-kilometer oil and gas pipelines were struck between China and Burma’s former military regime in 2009. The gas pipeline commenced operations in Oct. 2013, prompting concerns in the following months that low demand for petrochemicals in Yunnan Province threatened the long-term viability of the project.