Villages facing forced evictions in Burma's Thilawa zone | Connect Asia

Villages facing forced evictions in Burma's Thilawa zone

Villages facing forced evictions in Burma's Thilawa zone

Updated 15 February 2013, 15:44 AEDT

The residents of around 500 homes in the region of Thilawa, just outside Rangoon in Burma, are being threatened with jail terms if they don't leave their homes by the end of this week.

It's being reported that the local people are facing eviction to make way for a planned Japanese-funded Special Economic Zone.

NGO groups say that no alternative site for the site's residents has been prepared, and for many these forced evictions mean the loss of their livelihood.

The details of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone are sketchy.

Presenter: Liam Cochrane

Speaker: Dr Alison Vicary, specialist on Burmese economics, from Macquarie University in Sydney

VICARY: Well I mean a lot of the details as always in the situation with Burma are not available. But I guess, a couple of things I'd like to say is you've got to realise in a country like Burma at the moment that and according to a government survey, which are usually not reliable, that in the Rangoon area there's a 37 per cent unemployment rate. So there's a desperate need for foreign investment. Unfortunately, the way a lot of this foreign investment goes ahead can have negative impacts on actual, on whether it actually happens or not.

Part of the development, is the development, which is halfway through is the building of a deep sea port. Now, Burma's desperately in need of ports, because existing ports are overloaded, they're all silted up, no big ships can enter. So it's desperately needed, particularly in the agricultural sector, for say rice exports, and without these ports, the agricultural sector is obviously at a disadvantage.

But the development in terms of the businesses that are going to be located there: there are supposed to be a number of big Japanese companies, but it's not exactly clear what type of businesses will go ahead. But the thing you've got to note about this particular special economic zone against a couple of others which have been mooted is that it's actually going ahead. So what you get in Burma is often a lot of information about foreign investment going to occur, but it actually doesn't happen. So what we've got here is some big Japanese money, Japanese government money actually.

So the tragedy of this situation is this development is actually quite important and it's actually happening, but unfortunately, the disenfranchisement of the local people, it's happened again.

Now this disenfranchisement, you've got to understand is widespread across Burma, so the violation of property rights, either whether it's with local investment projects or with foreign investment projects is very, very common and this an ongoing problem.

COCHRANE: And it's something that a lot of listeners I'm sure will be familiar with in our discussions with other countries, Cambodia and China and elsewhere across Asia. But in this case, what do you mean by, being disenfranchised? I mean what sort of fate do the local people look set to go up against in a week or so when the eviction date comes around?

VICARY: Well, I guess if we look at a couple of other mining projects (word indistinct) Chinese mining projects in central Burma and up in Kachin State, near the China-Burma border is that they've allowed people to protest against the foreign investment, that it's still gone ahead with the theft of property and in one case in Central Burma, they used phosphorus on the protesters, so that there was hundreds-of-people actually who suffered from serious burns. So you can't predict exactly what's going on, because it's a very changing landscape, but it's very unlikely that people will receive any kind of adequate compensation and will be forcibly evicted and they do potentially face jail terms. So, like I said, it's a little hard to predict the exact sequence of events, but certainly based on the past, these people are going to receive very little.

COCHRANE: As you mentioned, the money is coming from the Japanese government via the international cooperation agency. What sort of responsibility does Japan have here?

VICARY: Japan has a big responsibility. I mean at least the agency, and this is not saying a lot, but at least the agency has actually responded and acknowledged that there are problems, though they have said that this is under the control of the Burmese government. So really, the Japanese do have a responsibility to compensate people adequately. And the thing is one of the problems in the area is that real estate prices have dramatically increased, because of the development, so even if people are not, so if people are not compensated, like at a market rate, there's no way they can afford to buy like agricultural land in the surrounding area.

COCHRANE: And has there been any other reaction to this internationally?

VICARY: Well, Burma has, one thing Burma has going for it is that it has a whole range of activist groups who are pretty well organised in responding to this, so they've been a number of NGOs who are involved in actually organising and orchestrating the protests.

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