The Myanmar junta publicly welcomes foreign investment into a new infrastructure project in Mon State, while the residents worry about possible negative impact of the project and the lack of clarity around compensation for lands to be confiscated, five local villagers told Global Ground Media.
An international airport and container port will be built in Mon State, said Myanmar junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on 18 October when meeting with local businesses in Mawlamyaing, Mon State.
Myanmar has been plagued by violence since the military seized power in February 2021, with clashes between junta forces and militias allied with the shadow government and pro-democracy groups like the People’s Defense Forces (PDFs).
On 3 November, the United States Institute of Peace said “the PDFs have grown in size, organization and capability over the last year and half, and now pose a major threat to the junta’s viability.”
So far, more than 2,500 people were killed and at least 12,900 are still being detained by the junta according to rights group assistance association for political prisoners (AAPP). The Myanmar junta has called the AAPP figures “exaggerated”.
On the other hand, some regional political parties and groups collaborate with the junta including in Mon State where the new infrastructure project is to be built.
The New Mon State Party has signed the National Ceasefire Agreement in 2018 under the National League of Democracy government. Despite the coup, the New Mon State Party held talks with the Myanmar junta in May about implementing the agreement causing public outcry.
Another regional political party, the Mon Unity Party (MUP) has joined the military regime’s governing body, the State Administrative Council (SAC). Thus both political parties are expected to collaborate with the junta on implementing the announced infrastructure projects.
The new international airport is designated to be constructed in Mudon Township of Mon State near Kawtparan village and the port between Balauk Nyaung Waing village and Wae Kali village according to an announcement on the junta’s media on 9 August 2022.
“Many foreign countries have economic sanctions on the Myanmar Military Government, so which foreign ship will use the port? There may be many other problems as well. To implement the project, we need sufficient electricity, smooth transportation, tranquility and rule of law. At present, there are armed-battles in these areas with People Defense Forces,” a local businessman from Mudon township said to Global Ground Media on 3 October.
The businessman, who asked to remain anonymous due to sensitivity of the issues, added that other projects of the East-West Economic Corridor have been paused and the state is facing transportation, security and electricity issues. The East-West Economic Corridor is the transportation network connecting the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.
“Dawei deep-sea port project is on pause. Bago-Hantharwady international airport was suspended and the building of Kalargote airport project has not started. So it is really interesting what kind of investors would be interested in this project under the current circumstances,” he said.
Myanmar’s economy further tanked since the coup as foreign firms retreated, the currency devalued and due to economic mismanagement. In 2021, the economy contracted an estimated 18 percent and the World Bank projects a mere 3 percent growth in 2022.
The junta’s Minister for Investment and Foreign Economic Relations blamed foreign backed “sabotage” for the economic crisis.
On 21 October, Myanmar was placed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on the so-called black list of “High risk jurisdictions subject to a Call for Action” alongside Iran and North Korea.
When blacklisted, financial institutions should consider implementing countermeasures suggested by FATF like limiting business relationships or financial transactions with the identified country or persons in that country and enhanced reporting requirements on financial transactions. This could pose further challenges to foreign investment in the country.
After the junta gave the green light for the project, the Mon State government measured and mapped the land. Out of the designated 4660 acres of land, 4300 acres are allocated for the airport with the remainder of 360 acres destined for the port.
Mon State government’s Minister of Natural Resources U Aung Kyi Thein said the Mon State government is in charge of calculating the land compensation. “We are only working on the land compensation while the budget is managed at the Union level. As a local state government, we have only presented the compensation plan,” U Aung Kyi Thein told Global Ground Media on 19 October.
A local administrative official from Kawtparan village, where the international airport is designed to be built, said they are processing the list of farmland and households in the village. “The government hasn’t formally announced the price per type of land. Some people are concerned that they will not get the compensation if the land is grabbed by the government, thus they are selling land now to brokers and others at a negotiated price,” he said on 9 October to Global Ground Media on the condition of anonymity.
The Mon State government offered 27 billion Myanmar kyat (MMK), or about 5.79 million MMK (US$ 2,728.56) per acre, U Aung Kyi Thein said. According to U Aung Kyi Thein the compensation is higher than the current land prices in the region including the value of banana trees and palm trees.
Different compensation figures have been floated, from 72 billion MMK in August to a mere 19 billion MMK on 3 November, creating uncertainty among farmers.
“For now, they are just meeting with us. There is still no sign of compensation. They didn’t have an exact amount of compensation during last summer’s negotiation. Even the project area is not fixed yet,” said a landowner to Global Ground Media on 26 October on the condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
At the same time, concerns are rising among the residents as the military government has a history of not paying compensation for confiscated land during its previous rule up to 2016. On Kalargote island in Ye Township, Mon State, residents said they never received compensation for land confiscated in 2001 to host a navy base.
A local resident from Kawtparan village, who asked not to be named for safety reasons, told Global Ground Media on 5 October, “it may take a long time to adapt in a new place if we have to move. If we receive adequate compensation, I may be okay, but history indicates otherwise.”
If the project were to be implemented, the local fish market would have to move as well, according to a fishing business owner in Kyaikkami town. “I heard that the port is intended to be built at Wae Kali village in Mudon Township of Mon State. We can see it from Kyaikkami Yelel pagoda [in Nyaung Wine village]. If the project is implemented our fishing market will have to move,” a fisherman said to Global Ground Media on 10 October.
Kyaikkami fish market is the biggest market in Mon state with more than a thousand fishing boats along 150 miles-long-coast from Mottama Bay to Southern Thanintharyi. According to the junta the project would create job opportunities.
“I wonder which countries would make investments and dock their ships at the port under the current political situation,” the fisherman from Mon State added.
Article by Thaw Zin Oo and Yan Naing Aung.
Editing by Anrike Visser.
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