Burma’s President Thein Sein and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra met in the southern Burmese seaport of Dawei on Monday to discuss the two countries’ efforts to develop a multi-billion dollar special economic zone (SEZ) in the area.
It was the Thai leader’s first ever visit to the site of the Dawei SEZ, located some 36 km from the town of Dawei (Tavoy) in Tenasserim Division. She was accompanied by around 60 senior Thai officials and business leaders, according to Thai media reports.
“The two countries’ leaders discussed investments in early industrial projects for the Dawei SEZ and flew over the site for an aerial view of the project area. They also visited the industrial zone,” said Tin Maung Win, chairman of the government’s SEZ Support Team in Nabulae, where the project is located.
He said the industrial projects would begin as soon as local residents of the area are relocated to a new village.
“The president told us in his address on Monday that the two governments will collaborate for the successful completion of the project because it is important not only for Burma, but also for the greater Mekong region,” he added.
Thailand and Burma signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop the Dawei deep-sea port and SEZ in May 2008. Since then, they have sought to attract investors to the project, which will cost an estimated US $50 billion to complete.
According to Tin Maung Win, six joint committees headed by ministers from both countries have been formed to oversee the project, the first phase of which—a light-industries zone—is expected to be operative by 2014.
The entire project, which will include massive investments in infrastructure and the creation of a heavy-industries zone, is slated for completion in 2020.
The project has been beset by difficulties in finding investors, as well as by opposition from local groups worried about its environmental impact.
Lay Lwin, from the Dawei Development Association, a local civil society organization, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the group was not given permission to meet with the president during his visit to express their unwillingness to relocate from their home villages and their opposition to a planned coal-fired power plant, chemical factories and other heavy industries.
Despite their trouble addressing these issues, the Thai and Burmese governments are keen to get the project up and running.
“The meeting is expected to boost investor’s confidence in the development project,” Thai Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt was quoted by The Bangkok Post as saying.
Chadchat said the two sides are also reviewing plans to build an electric train linking Dawei to Thailand’s Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong Province.