The Asia Highway is a large-scale, regional project funded in part by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The section of the highway under consideration in southeastern Burma/Myanmar will connect Eindu to Kawkareik Town and will cross through 17 villages and one town in Hpa-an, Kyonedoe and Kawkareik townships in Dooplaya and Hpa-an districts: 1) Mya Pyi village; 2) Eindu village; 3) Lu Nya village; 4) Ka Nay Du village; 5) Kawk Ka Da village; 6) Thayar Gone village; 7) Weh Kayin village; 8) Durein village; 9) Kyakalay village; 10) Ma Neh K’Kyeh village; 11) Kyonedoe Town; 12) Nwa Cha Kone village; 13) Nya Taing village; 14) Yay Pu village; 15) Lay Taing village; 16) Kone Taing village; 17) Tada Kyo village; and 18) Hlaing Wa village.
As a result, road construction will affect many villagers’ plantations, paddy fields, shops and houses along the route, resulting in a number of possible negative impacts. The Burma/Myanmar government often undertakes such projects without respecting the rights of local people or considering the benefits they may gain from the project. In this particular case, only one of the affected communities has reportedly been consulted regarding the project thus far. In addition to the direct effects of the road construction itself, the completion of this particular road will have additional spillover effects, as it will grant greater access to the area for foreign direct investment and additional development projects that may also occur.
In late 2014, villagers noticed a group of people who came and surveyed a route for the Asia Highway from Eindu to Kawkareik Town. The survey team placed signs and many concrete markers along the planned highway route. An unnamed villager said, “We asked them, ‘why are you measuring the road?’ They said that they were measuring the road according to orders given to them from their leaders [Burma/Myanmar government authority] and that they did not know anything.” These road developers did not engage or consult with the villagers, and instead demarcated the planned route while disregarding the villagers’ property rights, as well as their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Such activity has raised villagers’ concerns regarding the highway construction project.
In Thayar Gone village, one of the villages affected by the road project, a few representatives from ADB did meet with community members. Although they asked about the villagers’ perspectives and concerns regarding the Asia Highway, they did not provide any information when villagers inquired about whether they would receive any compensation for their lost land. This is the only case KHRG has received of a village having had any consultation.
Moving forward, there are four main points to keep in mind regarding the Asia Highway project. First, groups involved have not been properly consulted with or guaranteed compensation for potentially lost land, and have therefore had their right to FPIC violated. Second, the planned route of the road will lead to the destruction of individuals’ property in 17 villages and one town, including homes, shops, paddy fields and plantations being destroyed. Third, the destruction of this property will impact villagers’ livelihoods, with the possibility of displacement and economic migration as a result. Finally, the road project has already negatively affected community members, as the presence of road planners and route markers have placed villagers along the highway in a position where they feel under threat due to not knowing if and when their property will be taken over, when the road construction will start and whether or not they will receive fair compensation.
Villagers have come to distrust the Burma/Myanmar government due to the fact that the Tatmadaw has confiscated hundreds of thousands of acres of land for military purposes while the government has also allowed domestic and foreign companies to establish gold mines, carry out logging, build dams, develop infrastructure, and seize land for large-scale agricultural projects which have been creating land tenure problems throughout southeastern Burma/Myanmar.
Although not a direct part of the proposed route above, a nearby road construction project is indicative of the problems associated with these types of projects. The road goes from Lu Kaing village to Htee Ghuh Thaw village, and construction began on this project in February 2015 with no consultation with local villagers or compensation paid for land destroyed. Villagers were only made aware of the project with the arrival of heavy machinery, which quickly destroyed villagers’ homes and rubber plantations. Such cases of abuse have made surrounding villages wary of the newly proposed highway project, which has the potential to have a similar effect on their own communities.