RANGOON — Residents from about 60 villages have gathered in Kyaukphyu, Arakan State, this week to discuss challenges facing the coastal township, with a planned special economic zone (SEZ), electrification of the region and compensation for damaged farmlands among the issues discussed.
The two-day conference convened on Tuesday at a monastery in Liekhamaw village, near the site of the contentious Shwe oil and gas pipelines project, and is being attended by more than 100 people, according to Tun Lwin, who helped organize the meet-up and serves as coordinator of the Kyuakphyu Social Network.
Tun Lwin said the Shwe project, rural development activities and errors revealed in recently released lists of eligible voters in the township were also discussed by participants.
Conference attendees on Wednesday hope to reach a consensus position on the issues and plan to send a document outlining their views to the management committee of the Kyaukphyu SEZ.
Announcement of a tender winner to develop the site has been delayed for months amid local complaints about a lack of transparency from officials evaluating potential bidders.
Tun Kyi, secretary general of the Association for Rural Development in Kyaukphyu, said some Kyaukphyu residents impacted by the construction of a deep-sea port and related infrastructure on Maday island were still waiting to receive compensation after their farmlands were damaged by the project. About 115 acres of despoiled farmland remain uncompensated, he said.
“I told the other villagers at the meeting about what we Maday island villagers have faced with this government development project,” Tun Kyi said.
Kyaukphyu resident Htun Htun Naing told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that only 24 villages in the district were supplied with electricity while more than 240 villages remained off the grid. The lack of electrification is a contentious issue for residents of Kyaukphyu, which is the terrestrial starting point of the dual Shwe pipelines that have served to supply China with oil and gas while providing few benefits for local populations.
Township electrical engineer Zaw Zaw put the number of on-grid villages slightly higher, at 26, but acknowledged that the vast majority of villages were without electricity. He said inadequate road links were the biggest obstacle to further electrification.
Local resentment for development projects has long simmered in Kyaukphyu, where the South Korean firm Daewoo began work on the 500-mile Shwe pipelines in 2010. The SEZ has proven the latest potential flashpoint, with a planned coal power plant for the development in activists’ sights.
On May 6, Arakan State Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn promised locals at a Kyaukphyu town hall meeting that their concerns would be heard.
“The plant will not be built if the local people are against it,” he said. “No plans will be carried out without local people’s approval. The people have to decide whether to accept it or not and decide if it is beneficial to them.”
The Shwe gas project, meanwhile, is one of Burma’s biggest and most controversial developments, comprising parallel gas and oil pipelines that connect the Bay of Bengal with Yunnan province in China.
Daewoo owns a 51 percent share in offshore gas extraction and sales for the project, as per a 2000 agreement with state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).