CSOs call for suspension of Asia Highway construction
KAREN civil society groups are calling for an immediate suspension of construction along the conflict-ridden Asia Highway. As the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups vie for control of the main artery between Thailand and Myanmar – and the right to impose tariffs along it – local civilians have been displaced, driven from an active conflict zone.
The Asia Highway has been responsible for fuelling fighting, displacement and numerous human rights violations, according to a report launched in Yangon on August 26 by the Thwee Community Development Network, the Karen Human Rights Group, and the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network.
According to the report, another part of the route will soon be under development linking Kawkareik town and Eindu village. While the roadway will undoubtedly shorten travel times between the destinations, the project site is located in an active war zone, and residents fear the construction will exacerbate clashes through competition for the highway.
A number of Karen ethnic armed groups, including the Karen National Union, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council and the DKBA, as well as governmentcontrolled Border Guard Forces, collect illegal tolls along the road.
Exchange of fire along the highway is not uncommon, and has previously resulted in the deaths of civilians.
“Two residents were killed during clashes between ethnic armed groups and the Border Guard Force [BGF] in 2015,” Ma Naw Eh Thaw, advocacy coordinator at the Karen Human Rights Group, told The Myanmar Times. “Several residents [along the Asia Highway] have become homeless and several have been wounded in the conflict.”
According to the report, during the first phase of highway construction at least 17 households were forcibly evicted from their land under orders issued by the state government, which failed to provide adequate compensation.
The report added that the villagers allowed to remain on their property also suffered, as they were not fairly compensated for environmental damage to their farmlands as a result of the project.
For the second phase of highway construction, Asia Development Bank, which is partially funding the project, has tasked the Ministry of Construction with carrying out resettlement and compensation activities. But oversight of the initiative has not been adequate, according to the report.
“Compensation procedures have not been disclosed to people affected by the project, despite a number of plans and strategies issued by the ADB in relation to the project since 2015,” said the report.
The three CSOs called on the ADB and the government to address the local communities’ grievances and provide them with tangible benefits, before continuing on with construction.
Daw Su, a resident of Kawkareik township, said that she and her neighbours were promised K1.5 million per acre of land before the project started. But she was reluctant to sell her land.
“[We disagreed] because we would get this [compensation] only one time in our life, whereas the farm will provide for us forever,” she said.
Construction of the Asia Highway started in 2012 with the assistance of Thailand for a 25.6-kilometre (16-mile) section that opened last year. The route has reduced travel time between Thinggan Nyenaung and Kawkareik from three hours to 45 minutes.