RANGOON – Following a meeting on Thursday, about 300 people from 25 villages in southern Arakan State’s Kyaukphyu Township called for a suspension of the controversial Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) until the government could unveil a compensation scheme for land grabbing, a resettlement plan and SEZ by-laws.
The meeting was organized by the Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association’s (KRDA) coordinator U Tun Kyi. KRDA released a statement on Facebook on Thursday expressing local concerns.
Concerns included compensation for land confiscation; environmental impact; effects on farmers and agriculture; job uncertainty; lack of information regarding a relocation plan; social impacts on woman; unclear by-laws; and a general sense that the project would not benefit the Arakanese people.
This demand marks ongoing protests regarding the Kyaukphyu SEZ. Former President U Thein Sein pushed to continue its implementation before ending his tenure but in December 2015, a coalition of 107 non-profit organizations from Arakan State lobbied to suspend the project.
“Even we [activists] have no idea what is happening with the SEZ now,” said U Tun Kyi.
The new government said it would begin the project in July but has not yet explained how farmers will be compensated, U Tun Kyi added.
The previous government and local investors had allotted 3.8 million kyats per acre in Thaing Chaung village to build a water reservoir. Locals stated that the current market value is 30 million kyats per acre. U Tun Kyi said the government offered to double the 3.8 million kyats payment, but that it was unclear whether the government would offer the current market price to farmers.
Farmers have repeatedly questioned the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s transparency, saying that they are trying to avoid similar conflicts in the future.
Previously, a deep-sea port and gas pipeline projects have generated problems related to land seizure and unresolved compensation. At the end of December, the then-ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) announced that Chinese state-owned conglomerate CITIC would develop a seaport for the SEZ and implement the industrial zone.
Further negotiations between investors and the newly-elected NLD government will continue.
The government abolished U Thein Sein’s former SEZ committee in August 2016 and re-formed the committee with fresh faces, led by Vice President Henry Van Thio and Minister of Commerce U Than Myint.
There have been no further developments regarding the SEZ under the new government’s tenure.
OXFAM held a forum in Naypyidaw on Thursday, highlighting responsible investment in Kyaukphyu. The organizer invited the commerce minister, government officials and Arakanese civil society organizations, but the minister did not attend, according to Ko Soe Shwe, Sky Youth Organization’s co-founder who attended the meeting.
On behalf of the minister, some officials from the recently reformed Kyaukphyu SEZ committee spoke broadly at the conference.
Ko Tun Tun Naing, a Kyaukphyu resident who joined the conference, told The Irrawaddy that Ministry of Commerce director general U Aung Soe promised to create job opportunities for locals and to develop the SEZ without harming environmental resources.
He added that government representatives had not mentioned whether they had already designated the compensation rate for farmers, despite gearing up for the project on the ground.
Before building, SEZ by-laws should be enacted to balance developer needs with legal protection for locals, said Arakanese parliamentarian U Ba Shein.
Updates regarding the SEZ have yet to be released by the government, and adminstrators of the SEZ Facebook page have reportedly not answered locals concerns.
SEZ members could not be reached for comment on this article before publication.
The Kyaukphyu SEZ would cover 4,289 acres of land, with an industrial zone being built across five tracts in the first phase of the project.