Thursday, August 17, 2017

Activists demand peace in Shan State before hydropower projects move ahead

As the content and outcome of discussions between State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Thai government on Myanmar dam projects during her June 23 to 25 visit to Thailand are still unknown, advocates and opponents of hydropower projects have been rehearsing their arguments.

The Myitsone hydropower project, as well as dam projects along the Thanlwin River, are stalled, said Ko Oakktra Aung of the Thanlwin River Conservation Network. According to the network, of the 29 dam projects scheduled to be built on the Thanlwin, 18 have already been given the green light.

Ko Oakktra Aung said a number of foreign countries – including China, Myanmar’s other neighbours and EU members – might be involved.

“Chinese involvement takes many different forms. European countries can provide machinery and skilled workers. Germany was closely involved with the Upper Paunglaung dam, and Thailand is involved in projects like the Bhumibol dam, apparently working without other governments. Engineers from Thai universities work for companies and NGOs,” he said.

Sai Naw Sai from the Save the Galeen Network said fighting in Shan State is holding up many projects, with security in some places being guaranteed by armed groups such as the Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army near Tarpang Bridge in northern Shan State. He said the military manoeuvring reflected the desire of each side to control natural resources.

“They want to expand the coal mine at Natma village in Thibaw/Hsipaw township. The villagers oppose expansion because their farms would be affected, and fighting broke out involving the Shan State Progressive Party. The armed conflict forced villagers from their homes, disrupted agriculture and children’s schooling, and led to human rights violations. Mega-projects should be allowed in Shan State only under conditions of peace,” he said.

Sai Say Sai of the Thanlwin Dam Observation Unit said armed clashes between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Restoration Council for Shan State had occurred not only around dam construction areas, but also in Kyaukme and Namtu townships to gain control over natural resources.

Upcoming projects on the Thanlwin, which connects China, Myanmar and Thailand, include six dams located in Shan, Kayah and Kayin states. Plans are afoot for a 1400 megawatt dam on the Upper Thanlwin Kunlone, a 1000MW dam in Naungpha, a 2000MW dam in Man Taung and the 7100MW Tarsan dam in Thanlwin Mine Ton/Mong Ton township, Shan State, as well as the 4500MW Ywar Tit project in Kayah State and the 1360MW dam in Hakgyi, Kayin State.

Though work could proceed in areas where last October’s “nationwide” ceasefire agreement holds, continuing ethnic unrest and armed clashes in other areas will continue to hold back many projects, said Sai Say Sai.

Translation by Khine Thazin Han and Khant Lin Oo