Kyaukphyu Farmers Propose Compensation Rates for Land Lost to SEZ

By Moe Myint 19 June 2017

YANGON – Farmers from four village tracts in southern Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu Township have demanded that the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) committee compensate seized paddy field at a rate of up to 90 million kyats per acre, according to a township administration official.

The request came after a meeting between Kyaukphyu SEZ committee chairman Dr. Soe Win and 63 farmers from Thaing Chaung, Kat Tha Pyay, Chaung Wa and Khandi villages on Monday. Dr. Soe Win reached Kyaukphyu on Sunday, held a meeting with township authorities and observed the situation on the ground in the villages of concern.

Newly appointed township administration officer U Shwe Hla Aung said farmers also asked for compensation of pastureland at 70 million kyats per acre and for 50 million kyats per acre of farmland which would be lost in the scheme. The committee did not comment on the amounts requested.

According to U Shwe Hla Aung, state-owned Chinese conglomerate CITIC had selected 250 acres of land located in the middle of the four villages to be part of the SEZ. In total, CITIC had planned to develop the industrial zone on nearly 4,300 acres of land belonging to 35 villages.

Social Development Association for Regional Farmers member U Khin Nyunt told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Monday that his organization had provided a document to SEZ committee chair Dr. Soe Win asking that job opportunities be created for locals affected by the project, that a resettlement plan be put forward for the entire community in case of evacuation, and that vocational training be provided for residents. He also recommended that an SEZ bylaw be enacted to protect villagers’ legal rights.

The Kyaukphyu farmers’ demands have become a topic of debate in the Rakhine community: some describe their compensation scheme as too costly, while others call the land rates reasonable, pointing to higher market prices in the state capital of Sittwe.

“The farmers can grow paddy for a lifetime, but the compensatory money can be lost any time, if they don’t know how to do business,” said U Khin Nyunt. “Farming is their professional career and paddy fields are irreplaceable things.”

U Khin Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that he felt the meeting was too short and lamented that the village representatives were allowed to only briefly present their demands to Dr. Soe Win. He added that the Kyaukphyu SEZ committee had visited the villages last month and promised that the government was working on drafting a strategic plan for villagers.

“We want protection within legal frameworks, not a verbal promise from the committee,” he said.

The Rakhine State Minister of Planning and Finance U Kyaw Aye Thein, who joined the trip with the Kyaukphyu SEZ committee, confirmed that villagers demanded compensation for farmland, new land for their village, job opportunities, and training for locals.

We are still drafting a resettlement plan for the villages with the recommendations of experts, and will compensate the farmers in line with that which would meet international standards,” he said.

The authorities did not invite any local civil society organizations (CSOs), regional lawmakers or reporters to the meeting on Monday.  The Arakan National Party’s regional MP U Phoe San criticized the conduct of government as lacking transparency.

“The authorities should invite lawmakers and local organizations to the meeting and release the discussions to the public. We don’t want a result in which companies pay a small amount of money to the locals and leave the village with the damages,” said U Phoe San.

Planning and finance minister U Kyaw Aye Thein defended the discussion as one between the authorities and farmers, and allowed for the farmers to speak frankly.

“We will invite CSOs later. This meeting only required people who are linked to this issue. It has nothing to do with CSOs. We gave the actual farmers a chance to express their opinions,” U Kyaw Aye Thein said.

In late April, CITIC Chairman Chang Zhenming visited Myanmar and conducted a meeting with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw. Chinese official Wan Yajun also held a retreat with local businessmen from Kyaukphyu and expressed an eagerness to begin the SEZ without delay.