Thursday, July 27, 2017

Myitsone villagers hope to return home

As voters around the country geared up for the election yesterday Aung Myin Thar new village was quiet, its administration office closed.

Fishermen prepare for the day ahead in Myitsone.( Htin Linn Aung/The Myanmar Times)Fishermen prepare for the day ahead in Myitsone.( Htin Linn Aung/The Myanmar Times)

Villagers living in compounds eight miles from their former homes have been in limbo for almost five years, after they were forced to relocate to make way for the ambitious Myitsone hydropower dam, by Chinese developer CPI Yunnan International Power Investment Company (CPIYN).

Shortly afterward in 2011 under pressure from civil society groups, President U Thein Sein suspended the project for the duration of his term in office.

Yet 500 households from three villages in southern Kachin State – Tan Hpre, Myitsone and Padan Par – have not been allowed to return home.

Villagers say they are optimistic the new government will grant them some certainty about the future.

They say they have struggled to settle – each household has been given an 80-by-80 foot compound, whereas they used to live in much larger

compounds of two or three acres with space to farm.

Without enough land to continue in their old line of work, the men say they have and to find new jobs.

Ko Tu Maing, a 29-year-old resident who moved from Tan Hpre, says he is unhappy in his job as a truck driver and mechanic and wants to return to his old village. Authorities provide rice as compensation – 10 bags a year for his nine family members.

Residents of Aung Myin Thar new village hope the new government will allow them to return home.(Htin Linn Aung/The Myanmar Times)Residents of Aung Myin Thar new village hope the new government will allow them to return home.(Htin Linn Aung/The Myanmar Times)

“We want whoever wins the election to stop this project. Everybody needs things to change for their future,” he said.

In the past, authorities threatened the 80 households that did not move from Tan Hpre, said 35-year-old grocery shop owner Daw Htu Raw.

“If it is mandatory we have no choice but to leave our properties, but they haven’t come after us for a long time. The new place is not like they said it would be, and it doesn’t suit us,” she said.

“We will vote in this election in the hope that we will be able to live peaceful lives,” she said.

Daw Su Su Maw, a 40-year-old vendor who moved from Pyay in Bago Region to Kachin State five years ago, said she was unable to vote in the 2010 election, and was unsure yesterday whether she would be able to vote this time.

She sells snacks and alcoholic drinks at a stall beside the Ayeyarwady River close to the site of the suspended project.

She has an identity card but did not partake in the nationwide census. Authorities only come to the area to discuss settlement, not for voter education, she said.

“I am willing to see a change in government for the benefit of our future. But we are worried that we won’t benefit, whatever the policy changes,” she said.

“I think the National League for Democracy could change the situation or even stop the project.”

Many others from central Myanmar and the delta region have left their homes to make a living in mining, trade or other jobs in Kachin State, as they can earn more money than in their home towns.

Almost 100 migrants from Southern Myanmar live and work along the bank of the river near Myitsone, said Daw Su Su Maw.

The Myitsone project, which was set to become one of the world’s largest hydro projects, has been criticised for its negative impact on the environment and local residents, as well as its role in fuelling ethnic conflict.

Until recently CPIYN had been lobbying for the dam to be resumed. While the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has not made a public statement on the project’s future, NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told an audience in Kachin State last month that she could not promise to cancel it if voted into power.

Manam Tu Ja, chair of Kachin Democracy Party, said he will continue to oppose the government on this project.

“Even if the project will benefit the people, the government must guarantee their livelihoods,” he said.

“The people own these resources. The government cannot sell them without their consent.”