Damming up the flow of information

Key Issues: 

Bangkok Post 5 May 2006

By KULTIDA SAMABUDDHI
 

Opponents of the Salween hydro-power dam projects and the Karen ethnic group have renewed calls to scrap the projects after an Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand official was injured by a landmine at one dam site in Burmese territory. On Wednesday, Egat geologist Chana Mongplee stepped on a landmine at a campsite set up by Egat staff, who are working on feasibility study for the Hutgyi dam, opposite Mae Hong Son province.

Mr Chana was admitted to a hospital in the Burmese town of Pa Ong, where his left leg was amputated.

He was transferred to a Bangkok hospital yesterday.

The incident is telling us that the dam is located in a dangerous zone and Egat should scrap the project for the safety of people who have to work there, said Pianporn Deetes, of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network, the Chiang Mai-based conservation group leading protests against dam construction on the Salween river.

The Thai and Burmese governments last year signed a memorandum of understanding to develop five hydro-electricity dams on the river, which forms part of the Thai-Burmese border.

Egat signed an agreement with Burmas Hydroelectric Power Department to kick off the Hutgyi dam, the first project in the series, with an estimated capacity of up to 1,000 megawatts.

Environmentalists and human rights groups have protested against the dam scheme for over a decade, saying the dams would destroy the ecological system of the Salween river – the last free-flowing river in the Mekong region.

The dam would also lead to the forced eviction of thousands of ethnic villagers along the Thai and Burmese borders.

Ms Pianporn said the group felt sorry for the injured Egat official and demanded Egat call off its operations at the dam site immediately.

More engineers and environmental experts are likely be dispatched to the Burmese camp site to conduct the feasibility study and environmental impact assessment of the Hutgyi dam.

How can the government and Egat guarantee their safety? she said.

A Karen human rights activist, Zipporah Sein, of the Karen Womens Organisation, meanwhile, dismissed remarks by Thai security officials that the landmine had been planted in a plot by Karen villagers who oppose the dam project.

The dam site is under the control of the Burmese military who evicted Karen villagers from the area over a decade ago. The Karen National Union is no longer active in the area. It is unfair to implicate the Karen in the incident, said Ms Zipporah.

The blast was a sign that more violence could break out if Egat and the Burmese government pressed ahead.

This is not the right time for the Thai government to co-invest in the megaproject with Burma. It will be better for you [Thailand] to back off, she said.

The project would lead to the torture of minority people who would become victims of forced labour and relocation by the Burmese military supervising the dam