EGAT halts Myanmar dam survey

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IHT ThaiDay 5 June 2006

By Ismail Wolff

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) has halted its feasibility survey for a dam on the Salween river in Myanmar following the death of an employee in a landmine incident last month.

EGAT surveyor Chana Mongplee died on May 9 after losing his leg when he stood on a landmine while working on the feasibility survey for the Hatgyi dam to be built on the river.

The hydroelectric dam is part of a joint project by the Thai and Myanmar governments to generate energy for use in Myanmar and for export to Thailand.

However, an EGAT official told ThaiDay that its team had been pulled out of restive Karen state following the incident, saying that full-scale surveying was not expected to resume until 2007.

We feel we have enough information to complete the feasibility study, even though it is not really as complete as we would have wanted, the EGAT official said.

We have to talk with our co-partners, the Burmese authorities, if we are going to find out about what further security measures may need to be taken.

Further surveys, including environmental studies will need to be carried out before the design and construction stages start, he said, but that is not scheduled to begin until the beginning of next year.

The Myanmar junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has in recent months launched major military offensives in Karen state, which borders western Thailand and is where a number of dams are planned.

Documents obtained by ThaiDay show that EGAT and the SPDC signed an agreement in December last year to build the Hatgyi dam, the first of a number of projects planned for the Salween River, known in Myanmar as the Thanlwin.

According to the Memorandum of Agreement, the feasibility study was scheduled to be completed by April 2006, with construction set to begin in November 2007.

However, there has been massive opposition to the controversial dam project from local Karen groups as well as environmentalists and human rights groups. Experts yesterday said the security situation made it impossible to carry out a complete study and urged EGAT to postpone the project until a full survey could be completed.

If they dont spend enough time for the feasibility study, the dam will be very risky, said Pianporn Deetes of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network (SEARN).

Pianporn said that more than 100,000 Karen state residents who had fled their villages and are either in refugee camps in Thailand or hiding in the forests of Myanmar needed to be consulted as they were still waiting to return to those areas.

There has to be more transparency. The real study should include public participation, but EGAT have never disclosed any information to civil society or even the Senate, she said.

The Salween is mainland Southeast Asias longest undammed river. It rises in the Tibetan plateau and flows for 2,800 kilometers through China, Myanmars Shan and Karen states, along the Thai-Myanmar border and empties into the Gulf of Martaban in Myanmars Mon state.

Environmental groups say the dams will force the relocation of tens of thousands of people and will affect the livelihoods of more than 10 million people from more than 13 ethnic groups that depend on the river to survive.