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Right Groups Fear Negative Impacts of Development Projects in Burma

10 March 2011: The Karenni Development Research Group (KDRG) has today exposed detailed locations and progress of three dams secretly planned by the military junta in association with China hydropower giant Datang on the Salween River and its tributaries in Karenni State.

A statement issued by KDRG said the engineers are covertly surveying for dams planned by the Chinese company and the dams will block waterways across the state, causing further widespread disruption to the war-torn population.

Having gone through bitter experiences from Burm’a first major hydropower project at Lawpita, the Karenni locals fear that the ‘planned’ dams will be of no benefits to them but will have devastating impacts as before.

The ongoing projects include a giant 600MW dam on the Salween at Ywathit, a 130MW dam on the Pawn River in the heart of the state, and a 110MW on the Thabet River to the north of Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State.

“We are not allowed anywhere near the dam site. Some Chinese with strange equipment travel there with soldiers but we don’t know what’s going on,” said one local from Ywathit village.

It is not known how the electricity from these dams will be used, according to the statement.

The Ywathit is only one of the seven dams planned by Chinese and Thai companies on the mainstream Salween in Burma, and all of the dams are located in conflict zones, exacerbating local resentment and instability in the region.

Large dams are being constructed on all of Burma’s major reivers and tributaries by Chinese, Thai and Indian companies, causing displacement, militarization, human rights abuses and irreversible environmental damage while threatening the livelihoods and food security of millions, according to the Burma Rivers Network (BRN).

The BRN said the power and revenues generated from these dam projects are going directly to the military regime and neighbouring countries..

Thaw Reh of the KDRG said: “How can investors think this is business as usual while armies are battling around them and people are fleeing for their lives? They should wake up to the risks of these dams and immediately stop their operations.”

The Datang Corporation is a member of the United Nations Global Compact, committed to conducting business according to the universally accepted principles of human rights, environment and labor standards.

Meanwhile, a group of unversity students in Moulmein in Mon State last Tuesday protested against abrupt cuts in electricity during their graduation exams period.

In late February 2011, local residents in Kachin State launched complaints against the ongoing hydropwer projects jointly operated by the military regime and the Chinese government on the confluence of the Maykha and Malika rivers, tributaries of the Irrawaddy River.

“Building a dam on the confluence will badly affect towns and villages located up stream of the river due to change of river stream and lower water level, causing difficulties in transportation. The dam being built on the confluence will also damage the environment and livelihood of local residents. The problem is not only concerned with local residents in Kachin State but it also becomes a great challenge for the people living on the bank of Irrawaddy River.”

Church leaders from Baptist, Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations in early February this year joined together in a special prayer service with villagers seeking to halt dam construction at Myitsone.

Salang Tsa Ji, General Secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), said 30 families have been forced to relocate by the military authorities.

Meanwhile in western Burma, a mega development project being implemented in Chin and Arakan States is raising concerns among local rights groups about possible negative consequences for the local population, including possible use of forced labor and displacement.

The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transport Project, a joint undertaking between the Indian government and the military junta, involves the construction of a sea port in Sittwe of Arakan State, an inland water terminal in Paletwa of Chin State, as well as construction of a transnational highway from Paletwa up to India’s Mizoram border.

Van Biak Thang
[email protected]

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