Some 50 workers of the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) have fled from Burma to the Thai side of the border to escape fighting between Burmese government troops and Karen rebels that broke out near their work site on Thursday, according to various sources.
ITD, Thailand’s largest construction firm, is contracted to build the Kanchanaburi-Tavoy Highway, linking the western Thai town of Kanchanaburi with the Burmese coastal town of Tavoy [Dawei] as part of the multi-billion-dollar Dawei Development Project.
Local residents in Kanchanaburi said that the workers, most of whom are Thai and Karen, are now sheltering in a makeshift camp on the Thai side of the border in Kanchanaburi Province. They left all their equipment and many personal effects behind as they abandoned the site in haste.
No company workers have been reported killed or wounded in the crossfire, but sources said the construction camp was hit by artillery shells.
At least six Burmese government soldiers were killed during the fighting, said Karen villagers who had also fled to the Thai-Burmese border for safety.
Hostilities broke out close to the worker’s accommodations and the construction site known as Base 1, as Burmese government forces came under surprise attack from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 4, according to a report by the Thailand-based Karen News.
The construction camp is located near a government military base at Ah Leh Satone on the Thai-Burmese border.
An official from KNLA Brigade 4 told The Irrawaddy on Friday that a unit of KNLA soldiers from Battalion 10 ambushed government troops on patrol. The Karen guerrillas also burned down a temporary Burmese outpost along the Kanchanaburi-Tavoy highway.
ITD’s construction project at the Dawei Development Project was approved in March last year by the Burmese military government. The US $60 billion project includes a deep-sea port, a giant industrial zone, roads, railways, transmission lines, and oil and gas pipelines.
In early July, ITD workers on the Kanchanaburi-Tavoy Highway project were prevented from working by KNLA troops.
The KNLA has warned that construction should be stopped after local villagers complained that the mega-project would have a severe negative impact on the local population and the environment. Displaced villagers also said that they have not been compensated for the loss of their land.