Salween dam project raises objections in Thai senate

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The Irrawaddy 1 March 2006

By Sai Silp

A group of Thai senators plans to resubmit an official letter of inquiry to the Ministry of Energy urging the disclosure of details about a proposed dam project on Burma’s Salween River, after a previous request was denied in a meeting with environmental groups and representatives of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand yesterday.

Senators sought details of a memorandum of understanding between Thailand and Burma, signed in December 2005, for the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Salween River in Burma’s Karen State.

Their actions were prompted by an unofficial report by local environmentalists that ethnic minority populations had fled the proposed construction area for Mae Hong Son in Thailand and could be adversely affected by the dam project.

“We are preparing  a second letter to ask for project information and to explain our worries about recent developments in the proposed dam site,” Thai senator Tuenjai Deetes, deputy-chairman of the Committee for Social Development and Human Sustainability, told The Irrawaddy today.

This latest effort to get information about the project comes after representatives from Egat Plc refused to disclose documents about the proposed project. According to Sen Deetes, the company claimed that it could not discuss the project without getting permission from the Burmese government.

She added that many senators were concerned that the project would negatively impact local communities near the Salween River site. “I heard from local NGOs recently that many Karen families have fled to refugee camps in Mae Hong Son after renewed fighting broke out between rebel forces and government troops in the Salween construction area.”

The senate group also wants Egat Plc to allow for public participation and input by openly declaring the scope and progress of the dam project.

An agreement on the Salween dam project—one of five proposed dams inside Burma and along the Thailand-Burma border—was reached between Thailand and Burma in early December 2005

The Hat Gyi dam, the first to be built, will be located on the Salween River in Burma’s Karen State and equipped with a 600-megawatt turbine. The project is expected to take five or six years to complete.

The Hat Gyi dam project has drawn strong protests from NGOs concerned by the potential environmental impact to the region and the dam’s effect on the livelihood of local villagers.

Pianporn Deetes, an environmentalist from Southeast Asia Rivers Network, who works in the construction area, confirmed that the exodus of villagers in the construction area was prompted by the settlement of Burmese troops near a proposed reservoir for the Hat Gyi dam, where construction has already begun. 

SEARIN intends to release more information tomorrow about the likely impact of the dam on the region.