Thilawa SEZ Claimants Look to New Land-Grab Body

By Su Myat Mon 18 May 2016

RANGOON — Locals living on land designated for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) southeast of Rangoon are hoping a new government committee on land confiscation will help freeze the project’s implementation until lingering disputes over compensation are resolved.

In a statement this week, three villagers expecting to be impacted by phase two of the SEZ’s development urged the recently created Central Review Committee on Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands to see to it that the affected populace—numbering 300 people—is justly compensated in accordance with the law before expansion of the SEZ moves forward.

The statement was prompted by the National League for Democracy (NLD) government’s formation of the committee earlier this month, according to Mya Hlaing, a farmer from the Thilawa area and one of the three co-signatories.

“We have discussed an agreement [on compensation] but we haven’t reached it with the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee. And we are afraid that we will have a clash between us if they force works in the project area before we get compromise,” Mya Hlaing said.

Mya Hlaing said he was not opposed to the plan in principle, but wanted to see it implemented lawfully. The first phase of the project, covering some 400 hectares, was beset by complaints from locals over compensation and resettlement arrangements of displaced villagers.

“The project is for development and so, due to that development’s impact on people, it needs to be developed with a plan including [issues related to] confiscation, resettlement, and life-insurance for those people,” Mya Hlaing told The Irrawaddy.

Mya Hlaing expressed concern that the new government might not be adequately apprised of the villagers’ grievances, first aired under the previous government, which initiated the SEZ. He added that this week’s statement was intended to keep the issue on people’s radar—not merely the government’s, but also to remind the media and average citizens of affected landholders’ outstanding concerns.

Aung Than, secretary of the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee, said phase two of the project was underway. He said the 700-hectare plans for phase two could be subject to change depending on conditions on the ground, and expected about 100 hectares to be developed by the end of 2016.

He said outstanding claims were being handled according to “international law,” citing the involvement of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in the project.