Survey commences on railway to China

Ground surveys are underway to prepare for the construction of a railway linking Kyaukphyu township in Rakhine State with China, through the border town of Muse in Shan State, a report by the Ministry of Rail Transport on Monday said.

The report notes that religious and historical buildings are located on the 950 kilometre (590 mile) route, the report said. The ministry pledged that it would adhere to international standards in the project and that it would proceed with transparency. Monday’s report, however, provided little information.

The project was the brainchild of the previous military junta. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the rail project was signed as part of a plan to build a railway connecting Kyaukphyu township to Kunming city in China. The section within Myanmar extends 950 kilometres from Kyaukphyu Township in Rakhine State to Muse Township in Shan State. The plan called for this line to be extended to Kunming city in Yunnan province, creating a Kyaukphyu-Kunming corridor.

The railway runs parallel to the controversial Shwe Gas Project, which exports natural gas from offshore Rakhine State to China. Although rich in natural gas, it is estimated that only 25 percent of all households in Rakhine State have access to electricity.

The Shwe Gas Pipeline project has met fierce resistance in Myanmar, who view it as an issue of national security and the surrender of sovereignty over Rakhine State to China. Meanwhile, civic groups in Rakhine State have called for a halt to resource-exploitation projects as well as the Kyaukphyu-Kunming railway project, which some allege will see a more resources shipped from the state to China.

“We have not been informed of what they intend to do or how they will do it,” Tun Kyi of the Shwe Gas Pipelines Watch Group said on Wednesday, referring to the rail line. “If [the government] continues resource-exploitation projects without informing the public, they will definitely face protests,” he added.

The Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone Project, which will be connected to the Kyaukphyu-Kunming railway, is preparing to invite tenders from international bidders.

Union Minister for Rail Transport Than Htay earlier said that construction of the Kyaukphyu-Kunming railroad would not ignore the desire of the people.

The MoU signed by the junta says that China will pay most of the cost to build the railroad. It will be constructed under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) system, with transfer to the government occurring after 50 years of operation.

Beijing is also negotiating a planned motorway to run parrallel to the railway. A feasibility study has already been completed, though negotiations have yet to be completed, officials said.

The MoU to construct the Kyaukphyu-Kunming railroad was signed by Myanmar and China Railway Engineering Corporation in 2011 April. It will cost at an estimated US$20 billion. Presidential Office Minister Aung Min, who was ministry of railways at the time, and retired vice-president Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo oversaw the deal.

“At the time of signing the MoU, China reports revealed that China would finalise the project within three years. But up to now, China has not signed the MOA with Myanmar,” said an official of the rail ministry who was not to be named.

Source: ELEVEN Myanmar

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