The main road link from Kanchanaburi in Thailand to Burma’s Dawei special economic zone has been blocked by local villagers protesting Italian-Thai Development, a Thai construction firm that they accuse of failing to pay compensation for lands confiscated to build the road.
The blockade, in the Dawei district village of Thabyu Chaung, has been ongoing since Sept. 9, according to the Dawei Development Association (DDA). Thant Zin, who is the coordinator for the DDA, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the villagers have threatened to continue blocking the road and would begin farming the land by the end of the month if the company fails to pay compensation.
“In the meantime, they [protesting locals] only allow vehicles transporting medical patients and senior officials from ITD who are traveling to the seaport. They do not allow vehicles transporting workers from the project or materials for construction,” Thant Zin said.
The road link spans 132 kilometers across Kanchanaburi Province in Thailand to Dawei, in Burma’s Tenasserim Division. The route passes through seven villages where local residents claim that they have not yet received compensation for land confiscated in order to build the road.
The civic group Community Sustainable Livelihood and Development (CSLD) represented the local villagers at a press conference in Dawei on Tuesday.
“The group asked the company to set an exact future date for when they would pay compensation if the company cannot pay right now.”
The DDA reported that local villagers first asked the company for compensation in July, but received no response from Italian-Thai. The Sept. 9 blockade marked an escalation of tactics in the complainants’ second attempt at redress.
A statement accompanying Tuesday’s press conference stated that CSLD committee members would hold a meeting with the two local political parties, local authorities and Italian-Thai company representatives on Sept. 28 in Dawei Township to discuss the compensation concerns. Leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), the ethnic armed group that controls the territory in which the seven villages lie, are also expected to attend the meeting.
If the end of the month gathering does not resolve their grievances, the villagers have threatened to reclaim their former lands.
“They say they will put up fences on their own land and grow trees again to block the road if the company does not pay compensation,” Thant Zin said.
About 80 families from the villages of Mitta, Kalit Gyi, Kha Tuang Ni, Pyinthataw, Thapyu Chaung, Yepoe and Titkatoe are awaiting compensation, according to DDA. The villagers say the road’s construction destroyed land on which they grew betel nut, rubber, and cashew nuts, providing the main source of income for local communities. The road was built in 2010.
Italian-Thai has so far paid compensation to 111 families since 2010, according to DDA. The company has acknowledged but failed to address the recompense demands of 34 other families whose farmlands were destroyed by construction of the road.
“We found there are 34 families on the list from the company that they have to pay compensation, but they have not paid the victims yet. More than 40 other families were not on their compensation list,” said Thant Zin.
Italian-Thai has been granted a 75-year concession to develop the special economic zone (SEZ) and deep-sea port in Dawei. Local right groups have long claimed that the project has led to land rights abuses, including forced evictions.
Thailand plans to turn the Dawei deep-sea port into a massive industrial complex that will provide Burma’s more economically advanced neighbor with imported energy and a new conduit for its exports. The area will be administered as an SEZ under an agreement reached between Burma and Thailand in 2008.