Karen Rebel-Backed Firm, Govt to Study Industrial Estate Proposal in Myanmar's Deep South

By Nan Lwin 6 February 2020

YANGON—The Tanintharyi regional government and a company backed by a Karen armed group have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to conduct a feasibility study on a strategic industrial estate project on Monday that aims to link with two major regional economic corridors, one backed by China and the other by Japan.

Five hours by road from Dawei, the capital of Tanintharyi Region in southern Myanmar, the Mae Tha Mee Khee Industrial Estate Project will cover nearly 5,000 acres (about 2,020 hectares) of land under the control of Myanmar’s oldest ethnic armed organization, the Karen National Union (KNU).

The KNU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015. Despite this, it is still involved in one of the longest-running conflicts with the Myanmar military, spanning nearly70 years.

The project was covered in MOUs signed in December 2016, between the KNU-owned company Noble Prince; the privately held Sun and Rainbow company; and the Chinese state-owned company Power China.

The agreement includes the construction of the Mae Tha Mee Khee Industrial Estate Project to develop production-based industrial facilities, and the Tanintharyi Renewable Energy Power Project to construct a dam on the Tanintharyi River. The project also includes several smaller related projects, including construction of a small port project in Myeik and a road that will link Htee Kee on the Myanmar-Thai border with Ka Net Thi Ri in Tanintharyi Region.

The regional government said it had signed an agreement with Mae Tha Mee Khee region Industrial Co. Ltd to conduct the feasibility study. According to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration’s registration records, Mae Tha Mee Khee region Industrial Co. Ltd is a consortium of two companies: Noble Prince and Sun and Rainbow.

The project is in a strategic location in southern Myanmar that is expected to link with both Japan’s Southern Economic Corridor connecting central Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand to the Dawei SEZ in southeastern Myanmar; and the China-backed Myanmar-Laos-Thai economic corridor. 

Chinese media have praised the project as a possible hub for exports to India and a place where manufacturers from Thailand can set up operations.

“It is a long-delayed project. As far as I know, the project proposal has also been submitted to the National Reconciliation and Peace Center [NRPC],” Daw Yi Yi Cho, regional minister for planning and finance, told The Irrawaddy.

“We have to hold further detailed discussions on implementation,” Daw Yi Yi Cho said.

Last year, regional parliament members carried out a ground report including gathering views from the local community. In September 2018, the regional government signed approval for the project and submitted a proposal to the NRPC and Union government.

Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, the vice chairman of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy, “The project is just an FS [feasibility study]; it will take time for the rest of the process to get off the ground.”

Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win said further implementation of the industrial zone will be managed by the KNU’s Brigade 4 (Myeik-Dawei Region).

In 2016, over 300 civil society organizations demanded the KNU show more transparency and consult with local Karen communities about projects.

According to one of the previous MOUs, a KNU-owned company will own the projects, while private company Sun and Rainbow will operate the facilities. Moreover, Power China will be involved in providing the finances.

The profit-sharing agreement and investment ratio amount have yet to be decided, according to the regional government.

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