CSOs call for sus­pen­sion of Asia High­way con­struc­tion

The Myanmar Times - - News - Yeemon­tun@mm­times.com YE MON

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.

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