Chin Locals Interrogated for Lemro Dam Project
07 June 2012: At least four local leaders in Paletwa Township, Chin State have undergone interrogation for about an hour after falsely being accused of threatening engineers and passing information about the ongoing Lemro (Phunglong) Dam Project to news media.
Second Lieutenant U Saw Shwe, Deputy Head of Mrauk-U Police Station in Arakan State, interrogated Pu Ai Läi, Pu Ma Thang and Pu Kyaw Aye from Khopheishei village and Church of Myanmar Province (Anglican) Pastor Rev. Teng Shü from Tanthaung village on 31 May 2012.
The interrogation took place after one of the engineers in charge of the Lemro Dam Project filed a complaint, accusing the locals of shooting the workers as well as engineers with catapults and of stealing construction materials.
“U Saw Shwe asked if the accusations were true and who were the leaders of the Anti-Lemro Dam Project. The nature of his interrogation was not aggressive but very tense. We don’t know what will happen next but we are much worried,” said one of the Dai Chin leaders.
When asked about his intervention from Arakan State on Chin issues happening in Chin State, Mrauk-U Deputy Head U Saw Shwe reportedly said he was ordered directly from Naypyidaw to investigate the situation.
Saw Shwe also made it clear that the interrogation was conducted because of the engineer’s complaint, sent to Naypyidaw, against publications on the Lemro Dam Project by news media including the Chinland Guardian on 7 April 2012, according to a Christian leader from Mindat, who asked not to be named.
One of the leaders being interrogated was quoted as saying that they were suspected of spreading the news about the ongoing project, adding: “The authorities are still working hard to find out who was responsible.”
A Dai Chin leader in exile has accused the government of trying to hide the truth from the people and of ignoring their voices.
Soon after the complaint sent to Naypyidaw by the engineer, U Htay Lwin, of Mindat District Administration Office, made a visit on 21 May 2012 to the site of the Lemro Dam Project, asking the locals about the accusations.
“Firstly, he [Htay Lwin] asked the engineers and manual workers. Then secondly, he also questioned Khopheishei village leaders including Pu Ma Thang and Pu Kyaw Aye. He raised questions based on the complaint,” explained the Chin leader.
“U Htay Lwin also asked why the locals are against the project, how and who organised the Anti-Lemro Dam Project. It was the first investigation in regards to the Lemro Dam Project,” added the local leader.
One of the Dai Chin leaders said they had never threatened the engineers and workers to shoot with their bows and arrows and had never shot them with catapults, adding: “No one stole any materials. The site has good security as it is always protected by policemen. We don’t dare to approach the site as we are not allowed to even pass by.”
Another local Chin said that it was unfair as all the accusations were wrong and the locals felt disappointed because Lemro River has been invaded without their consent.
One of the Chin leaders said: “The locals are not happy with what has been going on with the river that they much depend on for their daily livelihoods. They have created a Facebook campaign ‘Save Lemro River’ with photos and videos uploaded.”
The construction has been carried out on the Lemro River near Khopheishei village under the supervision of ten Chinese and Burmese engineers from Shwetaung Hydro-power Co. Ltd, Junction Model and High Tech Company (Burma), China Datang Overseas Investment Co. Ltd (CDOIC) and Hydro China Xibei Engineering Company (China), according to sources.
The Lemro River Dam Project, a joint venture between China and Burma starting since 2009, has been opposed by the local communities saying it would not benefit but have negative impacts on the local community.
90 percent of the electricity to be generated by the project will be sold to Bangladesh and the remaining 10 percent will be put aside for the government while local people are not informed of the possible impacts, both negative and positive.
Reporting by Jeremy Hoipang