by Min Thein Aung / Radio Free Asia
Residents from 30 villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Friday delivered to authorities a list of demands, including the construction of local schools and clinics, as compensation for a controversial China-backed pipeline passing through the state and which they say is destroying their livelihood.
Representatives from the villages sent the letter to officials in the Bay of Bengal town of Kyaukpyu, which lies across the water from Maday Island where the Shwe Gas Project was set up as a joint venture largely between the official petroleum groups of China and Myanmar.
Nearly a week ago, the divisive pipeline prompted a mass demonstration in April in which protesters said they had been inadequately compensated after giving up their land for the project.
“We sent our demands to the township administrative office, the district administrative office and the offices of five political parties in Kyaukpyu,” Maung Aye, an area resident and member of the Local Development Committee, which represents the 30 villages, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We requested that they respond to our demands within 15 days,” he said.
Maung Aye said that in the letter, representatives called on Kyaukpyu officials to build schools, clinics and roads connecting the villages. They also demanded that authorities arrange for village access to drinking water and electricity. Representatives from Kyatetain, Minpyin, Chaungwa, Latekamaw, Kalarkyune and Kapaingchaung villages were among those who signed the letter.
The Shwe Gas Project is a joint venture between Beijing’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Burma’s national petroleum company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
The group on Friday also attempted to deliver its demands to the Kyaukpyu-based offices of MOGE and Daewoo International, a South Korean firm which is part of a conglomerate that holds a stake in the project, but officials from the two companies refused to accept the letter, saying the issue is a matter for local authorities.
Maung Aye said the villagers also plan to submit their demands to higher-level authorities.
CNPC completed the multi-billion dollar, 800-kilometer gas pipeline and began delivering natural gas to southern China’s Yunnan province on Sunday, despite long-held objections from critics. The state-run petroleum giant is also constructing a pipeline along the same route to transport oil purchased in the Middle East to China via Myanmar, in what officials connected to the project say shortens a distance that originally would have included passage through the Malacca Strait.
The designed annual capacity is 12 billion cubic meters (423.8 billion cubic feet) for the gas pipeline and 22 million tons for the oil pipeline. According to China’s official CCTV, the pipelines will satisfy a quarter of the country’s annual natural gas demand, and also bring about US$1.5 billion to Myanmar each year.
After the completion and commissioning of the whole project, two million tons of crude oil and 20% of the designed throughput of gas will be off-loaded in Myanmar, which officials say will promote economic development and the living standards of the people.
But the promises have done little to placate activists who say that in addition to trampling on the rights of local residents in Rakhine State, the project has also negatively impacted the environment, lacks transparency and largely benefits China.
On April 19, authorities in Kyaukpyu charged six villagers, believed to be among organizers of a mass protest against the pipeline project, with illegal assembly, saying they had held demonstrations a day earlier without official permits. According to reports, a number of Maday residents who worked as laborers for CNPC were also fired following the protest.
About 400 people had participated in the demonstration, complaining they were inadequately compensated for their land and demanding that the project developers provide better transportation infrastructure and higher salaries for local workers. The group had applied for permits to protest in December at both the Kyaukpyu township and Rakhine State level, but were rejected both times.
The protesters said they had received compensation payment for only half of the 400 acres (162 hectares) expropriated for the project, including a mountain owned by local residents from Maday Island, despite claims by CNPC representatives that the company had made the full payment.
Protesters also wanted the company to build better transportation infrastructure from the crude oil jetty at Maday Island to the nearby villages of Kyauttan, Ywarma, and Panhteinse, and to supply the area with electricity before continuing with the project. They also called on CNPC to create more job opportunities for local workers and to pay them at international rates.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for Radio Free Asia’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.