Govt to Compensate 90 Farmers Affected by Thilawa SEZ

By Sanay Lin 11 June 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s government announced on Tuesday that it will compensate 90 farmers who will lose land during the development of the first phase of the Japanese-backed Thilawa Special Economic Zone, which is scheduled to start in September in Rangoon Division’s Thanlyin Township.

“We won’t offer payments to the farmers for the rest of their life, but we will offer them a fair amount so they have savings in their current situation,” said Set Aung, Deputy Minister of National Planning and Economic Development.

“We will follow the international World Bank and Japanese standards [for compensation procedures]. We already collected household data between April 4 and 26,” he told some 200 members of the affected communities during a public meeting in Rangoon Division’s Kyauktan Township.

Set Aung, who is also the acting chairman of the Thilawa SEZ project development committee, said the survey had found that 90 farming households were eligible to receive compensation as they will lose land during the first phase of Thilawa SEZ, which will cover 400 hectares of land.

“We have aerial photographs and a detailed list of the households in the Thilawa SEZ area,” he said, adding that farmers would be informed of the payment amounts in July.

Rangoon Division’s Agriculture and Cultivation Minister Soe Min added, “Farmers should not register new family members on their family registration document, and should not try to deceive officials.”

Some of the leaders of the affected communities told the meeting that they agreed with the proposed compensation measures.

“We accept the plan for the Thilawa SEZ, we have no objections, but the government should give us a fair amount of money,” said Mya Hlaing, who represents farmers from six villages in Thanlyin Township.

“If the project starts we will vacate our land,” he added, “If the project doesn’t start this year, we want to be able to cultivate our land.”

In 2012, Burma’s government began planning Thilawa SEZ, together with Japan’s government, a consortium of Japanese firms and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The sprawling industrial complex, located about 25 km south of Rangoon, includes a deep sea port, Japanese factories, and large housing projects. The Burmese side owns 51 percent of the project and is responsible for developing a 2,400-hectare core zone.

The massive project is expected to drive Rangoon’s economic and urban growth in the next decades, and could generate up to 200,000 jobs when all four project phases are completed, a Burmese project developer said in May.

The Thilawa project has so far however, been marred by land disputes affecting hundreds of farmers.

The plans to develop the area first began in the 1990s under Burma’s military regime, which forced farmers to give up swathes of land with little or no compensation. The project failed to take off and farmers resumed cultivating their lands.

When plans for the zone were revamped in 2012 with Japanese support, communities were told to leave. But land prices have reportedly soared to as much as US$10,000 per hectare, and many farmers are now demanding higher compensation.

Minister Set Aung stressed that these issues would now be resolved fairly. “Please don’t compare [the land rights issues] at Thilawa with industrial zones that were constructed in the past. The Thiliwa SEZ is special and developed in accordance with international standards,” he said, adding that work had also begun on the project’s environmental impact assessment.

He said the government would not compensate farmers who would be affected by the development of the zone’s deep-sea port, as the harbor belongs to Myanmar International Terminal Thilawa, which is owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Port Holdings.

Although the implementation of the Thilawa project has so far been keeping pace, it could encounter further problems due to widespread land speculation in the planned second phase zone.

When Set Aung visited Thet Yer Gone, a village located in this zone, on Tuesday, he was told that businessmen had already bought up 40 hectares of local farmland, prompting the minister to remark, “Which government authority approved these land sales?”