The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Thanlwin dams harming peace process, says Rivers Network

Hydropower projects are fuelling armed conflict, an environmental expert says. The Burma Rivers Network (BRN) has called on the government to halt hydropower projects on the Thanlwin River in eastern Myanmar, saying the projects threaten not only environmental and social security but also the peace process.

The claim was made at an October 29 press conference in Yangon involving organisations like Karen Rivers Watch, Shan Sapawa, Marenni Civil Society Network, Mon Youth Progressive Organisation and Love Salween (Thanlwin) Group, which have been monitoring the impact of planned dams for 10 years.

At least 50 clashes between armed ethnic groups and the army have broken out because of hydropower projects, and thousands of refugees have fled since the current government came to power, the network said.

“These conflicts have broken out despite the ceasefires. It is very clear that the Thanlwin dams are fuelling war. If President U Thein Sein really wants peace, he should stop the dams immediately,” said Sai Khur Hseng, an environmental researcher from Shan Sapawa.

In March, the army launched an offensive against the Shan State Army-North to force its troops out of bases along the Thanlwin near dam sites in Nong Pha and Man Tong, leading to the displacement of 2000 villagers in Tangyan township, he said.

“The army’s border guard force attacked the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army in May to drive them from the Hatgyi dam site. The villagers fled to refugee camps on the Thai border,” said a spokesperson for Karen Rivers Watch.

In February, the Ministry of Electric Power issued a statement to parliament about future projects. Officials said feasibility studies had been completed for three projects on the Thanlwin. In August, an official told The Myanmar Times, “The survey is complete for three projects as we are going to build six dams on the river. We are going to sign agreements for the construction of dams and hydropower plants with foreign companies within three months. The construction period can be for four to 10 years depending on the dam size.”

The projects in Shan State include Kwanlon, with a capacity of 1400 megawatts, Naungpha (1000MW), Manntaung (200MW) and Mainton (7110MW). Other dams include Ywarthit (4000MW) in Kayah State and Hatgyi (1360MW) in Kayin State.

The Thanlwin River is an international waterway common to China, Myanmar and Thailand. China plans to build 27 dams on the upper reaches of the river. Myanmar’s plans will affect the whole river basin, said Witoon Permponsacharoen from Mekong Energy and Ecology Network.

The Myanmar government plans to sell electricity produced from the hydropower projects on the basis of agreements with five Chinese companies, one Thai company and three Myanmar companies. The ministry says Myanmar will get 15 percent of the electricity from the projects and the right to buy a further 25pc.