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Thilawa villagers remain in the dark as impact assessment is pledged

An environmental and social impact assessment will be completed before construction on the second phase of a controversial industrial zone in Rangoon continues, according to project stakeholders speaking at a meeting held on Monday with affected locals.

While the first phase of the planned Thilawa Special Economic Zone is almost complete, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – which is leading the project’s development – has faced a maelstrom of criticism from locals saying that JICA has defaulted on its responsibility to ensure good living standards for the people impacted.

On Monday, consulting firm Environmental Resources Management Japan and EGuard, a local firm, met with local community representatives to discuss conducting an environmental and social impact assessment for the second phase, which will house industrial manufacturers.

Ten times the size of the project’s first phase, it will likely affect roughly 4,500 people, who will need to be relocated. The community representatives raised their concerns about job creation for the locals, healthcare and environmental conservation.

Than Than Thwe, a representative of the Thilawa Management Committee, assured them that the social and environmental assessments would be inclusive of “the local population who reside here, as well as the decision-makers and the investors.”

The committee’s secretary, Lin Ko, said that the project’s operators have dispatched into the area to conduct a survey on the terrain, such as the lakes and creeks, as well as the wildlife and flora and fauna.

Lin Ko also said that the committee had redrafted a plan for the second phase so that the impact on the environment, including the local mangroves forests, would be reduced.

Villagers attending the meeting remained worried that they will not be compensated for the losses, especially those who are deemed squatters who said they have been issued an eviction ultimatum.

One Thilawa resident said that she was given insufficient prior notice about her eviction.

“They are giving us a deadline to leave within seven days. We just want to know what we need to do to get to stay,” she said. “Seven days is too short for this notice, which is why we came to this meeting to see if we can have a voice.”

Another Thilawa resident, U Kalar, said that there is a lack of information provided to them, and they do not fully understand the relocation and the compensation process.

“We are here because they summoned us to acknowledge a land substitution plan. That’s pretty much it,” U Kalar said. “I don’t understand it.”

Last month, three Thilawa residents travelled to Tokyo with the help of Japanese monitoring group Mekong Watch to submit a formal complaint to JICA’s headquarters about the deteriorating conditions the project has inflicted on the locals and the lack of information provided to those most impacted. A representative accepted the complaint and the Thilawa residents were also able to meet with Japanese parliamentarians to discuss these issues.