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Friday, July 1, 2011

Development Projects in Arakan

Throughout Arakan’s modern history, numerous development projects have been undertaken to support the military and bring in revenue for the regime. No opportunity to participate in, criticize, or oppose these projects has been available to local people, most of whom barely know the meaning of democracy because they have been denied it their entire lives. Despite a raft of sanctions imposed by the developed world, projects such as these have become more common than ever in recent years as the regime has been able to attract investment from its energy-hungry developing neighbours, who have been willing to ignore the junta’s appalling record on human rights and economic management.

The most typical negative consequences of such development projects include forced labour, land confiscation, forced relocation and increased militarisation. An influx of military personnel to secure project sites, construction materials, and facilities leads directly to an increase in a wide range of abuses such as unofficial “taxes”, violence, extortion, and rape; the lack of military accountability means that all of these crimes can be committed by soldiers with near impunity. The military junta also has a reputation for implementing such developments with total disregard for the natural environment and archaeological or cultural sites, many of which are invaluable to Arakan’s cultural heritage and identity.

Below is a brief overview of a number of current projects and some of their negative impacts.

Gas and Oil

Since 1988 the export of gas and oil has become a key source of revenue for Burma’s military junta. A 1998 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated that the gas and oil was in fact the country’s biggest legitimate earner, surpassed only by its flourishing narcotics trade. By their nature, gas and oil developments require sprawling facilities which occupy a lot of land, and can cause massive problems for citizens even in the world’s fairest countries; in Burma, ruled by one the world’s most irresponsible and least accountable governments, the ever-growing oil and gas industry in Arakan has devastated many people’s lives.

Shwe Gas Project

Natural gas extracted from the massive Shwe gas reserves off the coast of Arakan State is to be piped overland across Burma and into Southern China. In a project backed by firms from South Korea, India and China, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) will build almost 4,000 km of gas and oil pipeline from the Arakan coast, across Burma, to Yunnan in southern China.

The Shwe Gas Project will have a series of devastating effects in areas already stricken with poverty and constant oppression by the military. It will bring in and estimated $30 billion USD for the SPDC over the next 30 years, most of which will be spent further entrenching the government’s military stronghold on the country.

Many people have already been forcibly relocated from their homes to make space for the project sites, while others have been subjected to forced labour under slave-like conditions on project sites or military installations for the battalions providing security to the project. Even in the most affected areas very few civilians are informed of the development despite the irrevocable damage it will have on their lives. The few that have learned of these plans and their consequences, and attempted to question or oppose the project have been routinely harassed and imprisoned for speaking out.

Further, significant damage is being done to the natural eco-systems on which villagers depend for their livelihoods, and to cultural and historical sites. As with all development projects in Burma, without a democratic government in place, local people have no say in what happens to their resources, lands, and livelihoods. Military expansion has become a common feature of Burma’s political landscape in recent decades; this expansion has been funded with revenue earned by exporting energy from areas in which civilians experience extreme gas and electricity shortages, in total neglect of their needs. The AASYC have initiated an ongoing campaign to spread awareness about this project.

Oil Developments

The Indian firms Essar and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) have recently begun drilling for oil in Ponnagywan and Site-tway townships, on land confiscated from its by civilian owners without compensation. Losses of thousands of acres of land have been reported by locals, who were given no warning prior to their evictions. There have also been reports from local sources of villagers being forced to work on the facilities without pay.

Seismic surveying has begun in several other inland and offshore blocs in Arakan, as foreign companies, mostly from China, South Korea, and India explore for still more deposits of gas and oil. Wherever more fossil fuel reserves are found, increased militarization and further abuses will inevitably follow. The AASYC has begun investigation into these developments and will have more details soon.

River Developments

In recent years, a number of projects have been planned to exploit Arakan’s rivers. These projects will bring in more revenue for the country’s ruling military junta while devastating the natural environment, severely damaging local livelihoods and contributing to human rights abuses. Among these projects are the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility and the Laymro hydroelectric dam. Between them, these projects have the potential to devastate the lives of millions of civilians who have no power to approve or reject such developments in a country without democracy.
Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility

On April 2nd 2008 the Indian government signed an agreement with the Burmese military junta for the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Facility. The project will connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with Site-tway (Sittwe) port in Arakan State by sea; it will then link Site-tway to the land-locked region of Mizoram in north-eastern India via river and road transport. The project is divided into three phases, the first and second of which are scheduled to begin in December 2009.

Phase 1 – The port at Site-tway will be redeveloped to accommodate larger vessels and an increased shipping volume. This will entail dredging the approach channel and the port area (~562,000 cubic metres of material) to facilitate 6000 ton ships, as well as constructing two jetties, and extensive loading and storage facilities that will significantly expand the port’s size and capacity. The larger 219 x 15m port jetty will be capable of handling 20,000 ton ocean freighters, and a 54 x 15m inland waterway terminal (IWT) jetty will serve the smaller vessels that will ply the river. At present, Site-tway’s port consists of a 78 x 15m jetty and is appropriate for vessels of 2000-3000 tons.

Phase 2 – Dredging 225 km of the Kaladan River between Site-tway and Kaletwa (Setpyitpyin) in Chin State. Over 2 million cubic metres of material will be removed from the river, the vast majority from 28km of river between Paletwa and Kaletwa. Another IWT terminal will be built at Kaletwa for transferring cargo from river to road transport.

Phase 3 – Construction of a 62 km highway between Kaletwa and the Mizoram border. Initial surveys and feasibility studies for the road were carried out by Indian authorities, concluding that “large-sized experienced construction firms of repute” would have to be hired to successfully implement the project. However in June 2009 it was decided that the highway construction would “be executed by Myanmar government departmentally”.

According to the April 2008 Framework Agreement, the Indian government will bear the estimated $120 million USD cost and administer the project through the state-run Inland Water Authority of India (IWAI). The Government of the Union of Myanmar will provide for free all required land, environmental permission, and security, including security for all personnel and technicians. The project is expected to be complete by December 2013.

All three stages of this development will dramatically alter fragile natural eco-systems in areas where people are totally reliant them. Along with the Laymro hydroelectric dam, and similar developments on other rivers in Arakan, these foreign-backed government enterprises will further degrade the already ravaged homelands of the people of Arakan and Chin States. The AASYC currently has an ongoing campaign to spread awareness of these river developments.
Hydropower projects

The Burmese military regime has made plans for four hydropower developments in Arakan State; construction has already begun on three. If expectations are met, an estimated 691 megawatts of electricity will be produced and either exported to neighbouring countries or used by the Burmese military.

The large majority of this power will come from a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Laymro River. The dam will be built by a local company, Shwe Taung Ltd. and is expected to produce approximately 500 MW of power. Negotiations are still incomplete, but the Bangladesh government looks set to sign a deal with Shwe Taung Ltd. for any surplus electricity. Judging from previous projects, it is almost certain that any electricity produced and not exported will be used solely to power military infrastructure and for other projects in the region such as the Shwe Gas Pipeline.

The remaining 191 MW of power will come from three other hydropower developments: Sai Dun (70 MW), Tha Htay Chaung (111 MW) and Ann Chaung (10 MW). All three projects are currently under construction and are expected to be operational within the next few years.

People living or working along the river have been subjected to forced labour, land confiscation, compulsory and uncompensated relocation, torture and rape. If the Hydroelectric projects go ahead, these abuses will continue and become increasingly severe. The AASYC/ Arakan Rivers Network (ARN) has an ongoing campaign to spread awareness of this project.(

Site-tway – Ann Railway

In February 2009, work began on the construction of a new railway line connecting the capital of Arakan, Site-tway, to Ann, the headquarters of the Burmese military’s Western Command, via four townships. Before work began, a large amount of land was unlawfully confiscated from civilians, and more confiscations have occurred since. There have also been many reports of the construction companies involved, most of which are connected with powerful military figures, not paying their workers. So far, the citizens of more than six villages have been forced to relocate, without any assistance or compensation from the authorities.

Improved transportation is highly desired by many locals, since the roads in Arakan are in such poor condition; therefore, in principle this project could improve their lives. However, with so few opportunities for business in Arakan, and indeed government policies that undermine rather than support markets and individual entrepreneurship, analysts believe that the railway will be used primarily by the military to maintain a stronger hold on the region. It has also been rumoured that proposals have been mooted for the construction of a new airport in Arakan.

At this stage, information on these developments is limited but AASYC is conducting an ongoing investigation into the situation and hopes to provide more information soon.


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