About 600 residents of the deep-water port town of Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Monday protested against Chinese oil tankers moving into the area, as the operation of a long-delayed and controversial U.S. $1.5-billion pipeline gets under way.
The residents boarded more than 100 motorboats and piloted them from Kyaukphyu to Maday Island, site of the local office of the Chinese state-owned oil company China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), or PetroChina, which operates the tankers.
The protesters said that local fishermen’s livelihoods are threatened because Myanmar’s Fisheries Department has banned them from fishing in the area, while allowing oil tankers to operate there, and that the government has failed to rectify the situation.
Protesters demanded that officials do something to ensure the fishermen’s survival and provide adequate health care and education so they can eke out a living.
“We fishermen are in trouble,” protester Ko Lone Lone told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We protest today because we want to know whether CNPC or the government will assume responsibility for our survival, health care, and education.”
The protesters also demanded the delivery of electricity to their homes 24 hours a day and the construction of communication towers, high schools, and dams that will benefit residents.
Myanmar and China agreed in April to open the 770-kilometer (480-mile) oil pipeline between Kyaukphyu and Kunming, capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, after years of project delays and negotiations.
The pipeline will allow China to import oil from the Bay of Bengal, thereby diversifying its oil supply routes and scaling down its dependence on sensitive shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
A twin gas pipeline that is part of the same project has started operating.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.