Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ransom paid by Ital-Thai employees kidnapped in eastern Tavoy

A road sign near Tavoy, a site of a planned special economic zone and deep-sea port.

A number of employees for the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) were kidnapped and 16 vehicles were hijacked for several hours on Tuesday by five armed men in eastern Tavoy, according to the Irrawaddy website.

Calling themselves the BBK, the armed gang released the hostages and vehicles a few hours later, but only after extorting 10,000 baht [US $300] from the workers, according to Eh Na, the editor of Thailand-based Karen news agency, Kwekalu who said he met with the hostages on Wednesday.

The employees were said to be mostly Thai and were working on road construction for the multimillion-dollar Dawei Development Project.

“In addition to the workers, the armed gang seized 16 trucks and three satellite walkie-talkies. They also extorted 10,000 baht in cash from the hostages,” said Eh Na. “They were all released at midday.”

The five armed men allegedly told the ITD employees that they each had to pay another 1,000 baht if they wanted to continue working on the project, the road construction phase of which is to link the industrial plant in Tavoy in Tenasserim Division to Thailand's Kanchanaburi.

Although Burmese government troops and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 4 are both active in the Tennaserim area, early indications are that the five armed men were not affiliated with any one armed group in particular.

Saw Kwe Htoo Win, the chairman of Mergui-Tavoy District for the Karen National Union [the KNLA's political arm], said the ITD had informed the KNU about the incident and that it was investigating who was behind the kidnapping.

“We certainly did not order our troops to do such a thing,” he said. “But we are checking into the incident.”

The KNU warned in July that road construction on the project should be stopped after local villagers complained that it would have a severe negative impact on the local population and the environment. Displaced villagers also said that they have not been compensated for the loss of their land and homes which were confiscated to make way for the mega-project.

In July, some 50 workers from the ITD fled from Tavoy to the Thai side of the border to escape fighting Burmese government troops and Karen rebels.

ITD's contract on the Dawei Development Project was approved in March 2010 by the Burmese military government. With an estimated cost of $60 billion, the industrial project will include a deep-sea port, a giant industrial zone, roads, railways, transmission lines, and oil and gas pipelines

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