People living around a radius of three kilometers around the explosion site smelt the gas and saw the blaze. “The Boom Boom, was laced with the Whoosh..Whoosh. The villagers near the explosion site spent a sleepless night,” Myit Twe added.
Despite the flames and the smell of the gas frightening them, the families settled down because they had seen such a sight before. This is the third time such an explosion has taken place near the village, Myit Twe added.
The most recent explosion has added to the villager’s woes for the local military commander has ordered villagers to patrol the gas pipeline and fence part of it that is above the ground so that rebels cannot cause an explosion. The military has also told the people that they would have to take responsibility if the gas pipeline blew up near their village or farm again.
The local commander had also threatened to kill the villagers and shift the villages should the explosion recur. He addressed the villagers in foul language at a meeting a few days after the gas pipeline exploded near their village.
At the meeting, the commander from Infantry Battalion No.62 based in Thanpyuzayart town angrily shouted at the villagers suspecting that rebel groups in Kwan-hlar village, Mudon Township, exploded the pipeline.
About 100 men from Kwan-hlar, Yaung-daung and Hnee-padaw villagers were ordered to patrol the pipeline everyday as punishment. The people of Kwan-hlar and Yaung-daung village have been prohibited from going out of the village and troops have been checking each home in the villages and going over the list of family members in search of rebels. More than ten villagers including Nai Rae-Jae, the secretary of Village Peace and Development
Council, were arrested.
Although the army claims that the explosion was caused by the rebels, local people believe it blew up on its own because gas leaks regularly near their village. There have been three explosions already because of basic technical flaws during construction.
The pipeline transmits gas from Yatana-Gas offshore, Kanbauk on Tenasserim Division to the Maying kalay cement factory in Hpa-an Township, Karen State.
This is the second gas pipeline in Myanmar (Burma). The first one transmits gas from Kanbauk to Thailand.
This gas pipeline where the explosion occurred was laid in early 2002 by the Myanmar Oil & Gasoline Enterprise (MOGE) for the cement factory. Some portions of the pipeline are above the ground and some are underground. The pipeline passes through streams, farmland, plantations, many villages and some towns along Tenasserim Division, Mon State, and Karen State.
“The first time the explosion occurred all the people in the village fled. Some went with their cars; some went with carts and some ran in the middle of the night. Some houses were burnt down after people carelessly left fires burning in their home while escaping. People thought that the dam built on the east of their village had burst. But it was the gas pipeline which blew up,” Myit Twe said talking of his experience in 2000 when the military was testing the transmission of gas.
In the 2003 explosion, people in the area smelt gas. Hundreds of people moved away to avoid the smell of gas and stayed with the poor in the village, he added. A farmland turned into a crater following the fire and the explosions.
In late 2005, gas leaked twice into a small river near his village and local authorities repaired the 24 inches wide and 2-centimeter thick pipe. The pipeline is over 200 kilometres long. The pipeline was laid in early 2000 and has been unsafe ever since.
The pipeline touches many streams, water bodies in the farms, which local people rely on for drinking and cultivation. During rainy season, the pipeline goes underwater. It also passes in front of people’s houses and gas can easily seep into the wells.
Local environment workers say the explosion and the unsafe manner in which it has been laid is damaging the environment and livelihoods of people living along the pipeline.
The gas pipeline blew up at least five times, three times in Mudon township, once time in Thanbyuzayart township and twice in Ye township. A Karen rebel group caused the explosion once.
“We can easily ensure that the gas is transmitted safely,” a student from Earth Rights International, who did field work in the area said.
Although there are regular explosions and leakage of gas, the military government has done precious little to ensure safety and reinstall some parts that are exposed.
“The local authorities should educate people to avoid breathing in the gas,” said an Earth Rights International worker who did research work on the gas pipeline in Burma. He felt that regular explosions would effect the environment along the pipeline.
According to Human Rights Foundation of Monland and Earth Rights Workers, the government had no prevention plans .The Thais had told the gas company to arrange for compensation for people’s land and resettlement for safely transmitting the gas through the Kanbauk-Bangkok pipeline. Total company assured people that the long gas pipeline would ensure a higher living standard. They had also promised reforestation along the pipeline passing through Tavoy district to Thailand.
“There was no compensation to the people and there was no reforestation programme and safety measures along the Kanbauk- Maying kalay pipeline neither was there humanitarian support because the project was that of the military regime,” explained Nai Kasauh Mon, Director of Human Rights Foundation of Monland.
Despite being aware of the danger from the gas project the people did not protest given their experience of the regime’s cruelty during the 1988 movement when they shot and killed protestors.
The military regime had promised local people that there would be electricity in the area after the pipeline was laid. Locals recall a manager working on the pipeline saying this while copying a document in a computer shop in Moulmein.
All they authorities have done is built a gas releasing station. It releases gas for about 48 hours (two days two nights) for repairing the gas pipeline. The flames shoot up to a height of over two trees placed to end and villagers nearby have to suffer extreme heat. There is always the smell of gas in the village and people are barred from cooking when the gas is released. The trees around the village have died following repeated release of gas, said Mehm Nae a villager living near the station.
Community Earth Rights workers are worried because there can be no cultivation in the soil along which the gas pipeline passes and places where there have been explosions.
“If we eat the vegetables or fruits, grown on soil where the explosions have occurred, we don’t know what poison will enter our system,” said an Earth Rights worker.
When the gas pipeline exploded in March 2003 in Lamine sub Town, Ye Township, people were afraid that their homes would be burnt down. “My family collected valuable belongings and tried to escape. But we didn’t know which way to escape. Panic-stricken villagers were desperate to escape. We could smell the gas and the authorities told us not to not to light the fire or cook because of the explosion in the part of the town near the railway station,” Ma Moo a university student and an eye witness said.
During this explosion the residents thought that a war had broken out for all they could hear was the loud explosions and thought the area was being bombed.
When they smelt the gas the next day residents realized there was an explosion in the pipeline. Some planned to move their house far from pipeline and into the hills.