Thilawa Residents Formally Complain to Tokyo

By Yen Saning 3 June 2014

RANGOON — Three residents from the Thilawa Special Economic Zone near Rangoon have filed a formal complaint to Tokyo about the negative effects of Japanese investment in the area.

It is the first formal complaint filed under the objection procedures of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since the restructuring of Japan’s international aid body in 2008, according to NGOs Thilawa Social Development Group and Mekong Watch.

An objection letter has been received by JICA examiner Dr. Sachihiko Harashina in person, the NGOs said in a statement on Monday.

“The objection outlines damages that the villagers from the 400 ha. area of Phase 1 of the project have incurred in their relocation from their homes and land,” the NGOs said in the statement. These damages included “loss of farmland and access to farmland, loss of livelihood opportunities, impoverishment, loss of educational opportunities for the villagers’ children, substandard housing and basic infrastructure in the Myaing Tha Yar resettlement site and loss of access to clean water.”

The statement warned that residents from another 2,000 hectare area that will be used in a later phase of the project would likely face similar problems.

“The government and authorities are not listening to us villagers,” said Mya Hlaing, one of the three residents who filed the complaint, according to the statement. “We have tried to tell JICA how things really are in Thilawa by repeatedly submitting letters to JICA requesting appropriate resettlement and compensation measures, as required by their guidelines and international standards. JICA has not listened to our voices.”

Minari Tsuchikawa, from Mekong Watch, a Japanese NGO that monitors Japan-related projects in Mekong Region, was quoted as saying, “Even while the examiners carry out their investigation, the Japanese government and JICA must take steps to ensure that there is no further deterioration in the standard of living of the affected people, and urgent measures are needed to understand and address the villagers’ living conditions and concerns.”

She added, “How JICA handles this case will be a litmus test for other projects in [Burma].”

JICA has a 10 percent stake in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone, while three Japanese companies hold 39 percent stake. The Burmese government and a joint venture of nine Burmese companies have invested the remaining 10 percent and 41 percent, respectively.