Thilawa SEZ Holdout Hit With Trespassing

The last holdout resident living in the Phase I area of the Thilawa special economic zone (SEZ) is facing trespassing charges after refusing to vacate his home on land designated for the project, located about 20 miles southeast of Rangoon.

 By YEN SNAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Tuesday, September 30, 2014 |

RANGOON — The last holdout resident living in the Phase I area of the Thilawa special economic zone (SEZ) is facing trespassing charges after refusing to vacate his home on land designated for the project, located about 20 miles southeast of Rangoon.

Kyaw Win, together with his wife and two children, was briefly detained at the Thanlyin police station on Friday, and was later released on bail. The trespassing charge is being brought by Thanlyin’s assistant deputy police commissioner, Kyaw Zay Ya.

Kyaw Win’s family is the last to refuse to move to Myaing Thar Yar village, a relocation site arranged by the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee for those formerly residing in the SEZ’s Phase I area. He has been charged with trespassing under Section 447 of Burma’s Penal Code.

“I said I cannot move yet because the compensation to build a [new] house is not enough,” Kyaw Win told The Irrawaaddy. “I haven’t gotten extra land to keep my cows either.”

Kyaw Win has continued to live on and cultivate a one-acre plot of land within the 400-hectare Phase I area of the Thilawa SEZ. He accepted the first installment of compensation, nearly 5.5 million kyats (US$5,500), and says he was told to sign a contract acknowledging receipt of the payment, without understanding the details of the agreement.

“The last time I signed it [contract of agreement] not because I agreed. I signed it because I was pressured by the secretary of the Thilawa SEZ [Management] Committee, Than Than Thwe, who warned that I would be reported to Rangoon’s divisional government [for refusing to sign]. I was afraid I might get sued, that’s why I signed it,” Kyaw Win said.

He was told he would be given a total of about 7.7 million kyats in total compensation, which was to cover property he owned in the Phase I area, moving expenses and 5 million kyats to build a new home in Myaing Thar Yar.

After accepting the first compensation installment, Kyaw Win began to build a new house at the relocation site but realized that the compensation would not be enough to complete the house or buy additional land on which to grow crops and raise livestock. “It cost over 70 lakh [7 million kyats] to build a house,” Kyaw Win said.

He has since refused to accept the rest of the compensation.

“They [the Management Committee] said they would create conditions not worse than our original situation; they claim they have given [sufficient] farmland and land to raise livestock. That hasn’t happened,” Kyaw Win said. “They said they would give us jobs. This hasn’t happened either. How can I make a living at Myaing Thar Yar?”

The rest of the villagers, a total of 67 families, have taken the compensation given to them and moved to the relocation village.

Kyaw Win said he would move only if those resettled to make way for Thilawa were provided with secure jobs, a more generous compensation package and a larger land allotment at the relocation site.

The relocated villagers’ compensation claims were considered by the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee on a case by case basis, but most received no more than half of the 5 million kyats that Kyaw Win received to construct a new house.

No compensation for the land itself was given as the land was claimed to be confiscated by the government in the 1990s, a contention that has been disputed by some of the displaced. Three villagers have filed a complaint over the issue with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and a response from the agency, which has a 10 percent stake in the SEZ, is expected by November.

Lawyer Myint Thwin, who has provided legal counsel to the Thilawa villagers, said charging Kyaw Win with Section 447 was unlawful, given that the SEZ’s managers had themselves failed to follow Burma’s 2012 Farmland Law and its by-laws. He cited the fact that the Farmland Law requires that compensation arrangements be negotiated by the landholder and acquisitioning party, not simply set by the latter, as occurred at Thilawa.

Many of the villagers including Kyaw Win had continued to pay taxes on the land until 2012, Myint Thwin added, despite the fact that the land was “confiscated” in the 1990s. Furthermore, only land claimants had legal standing to bring trespassing charges, not the Thanlyin police, the lawyer said, while acknowledging that eminent domain provisions were on the books allowing for the seizure of private lands for public benefit in certain cases.

“They have to notify or compensate all people from the area according the 1894 Land Acquisition Act,” he said. “If they want to expel Kyaw Win now, they have the right to do so only after they have given compensation according to the 2012 Farmland Law and by-laws.”

The Thilawa Social Development group, a local community group helping those affected by the SEZ, released a statement on Monday saying Kyaw Win’s case served as an ominous bellwether.

“The charges against Ko Kyaw Win and his family send a message to the rest of us in Phase II. If we don’t agree to move, we could be arrested the same way,” Mya Hlaing, a member of the group and resident of the 2,000-hectare area that comprises Phase II, said in the statement. Initial surveying work on the Phase II tract began earlier this year.

“We don’t want to cause problems,” Mya Hlaing continued. “We just want to be compensated enough so that we can continue to live in the same way and take care of our families.”