Aye Khaing Win was born in Let Yet San, a village surrounded by orchards and rice paddies 20 kilometers south of Myanmar’s capital city of Yangon. He grew up, met his wife, and started a family there. In 1996, the government confiscated many Thilawa residents’ land. Because they did not develop it, however, families continued to legally farm and live on the land.
In January of 2013, residents were informed of the Thilawa Special Economic Zone. Local authorities instructed them to relocate within two weeks and coerced signatures that “proved” their agreement to do so. The relocation site lacked the proper infrastructure and was not suitable for living. Residents had no choice but resettle there despite the obvious problems it presented: loss of land, livelihood, quality of life.
Since then, the Thilawa community has mobilized to fight for proper compensation and acceptable solutions to the problems caused by the SEZ. They formed the Thilawa Social Development Group (TSDG), which worked to file a formal complaint with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). When JICA failed to resolve the issues in their complaint, TSDG began to develop their own method for addressing harms: a Community-Driven Operational Grievance Mechanism (CD-OGM).
Aye Khaing Win has been at the forefront of these efforts. He fearlessly travels from his village to Japan’s capital to personally voice his community’s concerns to JICA; or to a UN conference in Geneva to speak truth to power about what really happens on the ground when foreign investors are not held accountable to local people.
Despite the damage the SEZ has caused in Thilawa, the community is still hopeful it will bring positive change for Myanmar: “We do not attack SEZ. We do not ask them to stop. We do not destroy. The SEZ is necessary for the country. But local people have to benefit as much as the country does…We have to think of the real need.”