KNU tightens construction ban on Tavoy to Kanchanaburi Road

The Karen National Union (KNU) has banned all vehicles owned by the Italian-Thai Development (ITD) Company from using a road linking the Thai province of Kanchanaburi to Burma’s southern seaport of Tavoy in order to halt work on a controversial project in the area, according to Karen sources.

The road, which is still under construction, is being built by ITD as part of the multi-billion-dollar Dawei Development Project, which aims to turn Tavoy into a major transport and manufacturing hub, including petrochemical plants that are seen as a threat to the region’s pristine coastline.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the KNU, said: “All development projects must abide by international laws. We do not want them to destroy the environment and cause the people to suffer because of it.”

A systematic environmental impact assessment must be carried out before the project is allowed to continue, she added.

“The people must have the right to decide. They need to know about the impact of the project,” she said.

Eh Na, the editor of Kwekalu, a Karen news agency, said that KNU informed the company of the ban on Sept 15.

“However, for humanitarian reasons, they will allow some vehicles to use the road to transport food to workers on the Burmese side,” added Eh Na, who has also done extensive research on the Dawei project.

The US $60 billion project, which was approved by the Burmese military government in March last year, includes a deep-sea port, a giant industrial zone, roads, railways, transmission lines, and oil and gas pipelines.

The KNU have been blocking vehicles carrying ITD employees since July, said Karen sources. The KNU said its actions are based on calls from local villagers who say that the mega-project will have a severe negative impact on people living in the area and the environment.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Thai military commanders in Kanchanaburi are unhappy about the new road, which they say will have strategic value for the Burmese army.

“If the Burmese launch a military operation in the future, this road will give them easy access to the border,” said a source close to the Thai army who requested anonymity.

“They [the Thai army] worry that as soon as the Burmese army reaches the border, the more they will have to suffer,” he added. irrawaddy news

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The Karen National Union has taken a tougher stance and banned all Italian-Thai Development Company vehicles from using the Tavoy-Kanchanaburi road that links southern Burma to Kanchanaburi in Thailand.

A KNU official (who requested that their name not be used) told Karen News that the KNU informed the Italian-Thai Development (ITD) Company representatives that they travel and use of the Tavoy-Kanchanaburi Road was banned from 15 September.

Sources close to the KNU explained to Karen News that the decision came after ITD representatives met with the KNU on 14 September. This is also the end of the time period allocated by the KNU for the company to carry out a road survey.

The KNU source did not want to expand on negotiations between the company and the Karen political organization.
In Early July Karen soldiers stopped all of the Italian-Thai Development Company road construction east of Tavoy, but still allowed ITD workers and vehicles to use and travel on the road. The latest KNU position bans any ITD vehicle from traveling on the road and stops all roadwork east of Tavoy to Thai border of Kanchanaburi. The KNU’s new tougher stance allows the company to bring food and supplies to their workers who are in Burma.

A few days ago the Karen soldiers avoided a major incident by not firing on a ITD car that refused to obey the ban and refused to stop.

Road construction sign on Tavoy-Kanchanaburi (Photo:KIC)

A KNU source said ITD company officials do not want to publicize or acknowledge the conflict surrounding the Tavoy Development Project it might jeopardize trust from their investors or shareholders.

 

The 160 kilometer Kanchanaburi-Tavoy highway is part of the mega Tavoy Development Project that is estimated to be worth more than US$60 billion. The Burmese military government awarded project to the Italian-Thai Development Company and it includes a deep-sea port, a giant industrial zone, roads, railways, transmission lines and oil and gas pipelines.

Most of the planned highway goes through KNU controlled areas – a conflict zone between Karen forces and the Burma Army.

A KNU source said the ITD Company has proposed to the KNU for a joint assessment of the environmental and other impacts caused by the project. It is understood by Karen News, that the KNU is considering the ITD proposal.

ITD has acknowledged to the KNU that 20 villages along the Tavoy coastal line will have to be relocated from their homes, but as yet there is no housing or utilities available to replace them. Company officials told the Karen that the Burmese government does not approve of the company building relocation housing.

A company source who did not want to named for job security reasons, said at the end August, the Italian-Thai Development Company started transporting construction material into the contested area. They said the building materials were needed to build bridges destroyed by floods and to speed up road construction in order to move heavy equipment and workers to the planned deep seaport site on the coast at Tavoy.

According to the company source, ITD workers are scared to work on the construction if they are not allow in by the KNU-Karen news

 

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