Villagers living near the site of a proposed deep-sea port in the town of Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state fear losses as the joint project with China gets under way, with fishermen already restricted from access to the sea, sources say.
With ship traffic increasing in the area of the proposed port, residents of 20 villages nearby may now fish only in a restricted area, and many have lost their livelihoods, one villager told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Now, we are allowed to work only in one small area,” the villager named Lay Myint said. “But even with this, our families are experiencing many difficulties.”
“In my village, many have lost their jobs, and we’ve become dejected,” he said.
Part of a planned Special Economic Zone (SEZ) covering over 4,200 acres, the deep-sea port in Kyaukphyu is an important part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” development strategy, giving Beijing access to the Bay of Bengal as an alternative route for oil imports.
“Two ports will be built on 600 acres as part of this project, with China given 70 percent of the work and Myanmar allowed 30 percent,” Lay Myint said.
“But even though both governments have agreed to begin work on one of these ports this year, the local people still don’t know very much about it,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, another fisherman, Maung Yin Htwe, said he had only heard rumors that a port was going to be built, adding that he doesn’t know who will construct the port or how it will be built.
“The problem in this day and age is that whenever there’s an important event, local people find out about it only after the fact, and this has become the usual practice,” he said.
Farmers also affected
Farmers working in the area of industrial zones planned in the SEZ will also be affected by the work, with local people likely to lose over 2,000 acres of land that they have farmed for generations, according to a November 2017 report by the Kyaukphyu Rural Association.
Many fear they won’t be compensated for their loss of orchards and land.
“They call it wasteland if you don’t have any documents proving ownership,” one farmer named Saw Maung Nu told RFA. “They will say ‘You can say you own this land only if you have the right papers, and if you don’t, it’s not yours.'"
“And they won’t give us any money for our land,” he said.
Kyaukphyu township administrators meanwhile say no plans have been explained to them to address the concerns of local people.
“We haven’t been told anything,” one local administrator said. “They will tell us only when they begin the work. In the meantime, there are many procedures we have to follow.”
Remedies will be proposed only after environmental-impact and social-impact studies have been completed, said Kyaw Kyaw Soe, director of the MKSEZ consortium of 42 companies holding 15 percent of Myanmar’s 30 percent ownership of the project.
“Both [China’s] CITIC company and our own company have a plan for what we will do for the fishermen after the project goes ahead. But we will need to draw up the specifics of the plan after we have conducted our studies.”
“And so, we know what we are going to do for the fishermen,” he said.
Spokesmen for CITIC did not respond to RFA requests for information on their own plans for help to villagers affected by work on the port.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Kyaw Aung. Written in English by Richard Finney.