Rights Groups Urge Thais to Pull Out of Salween Dam Project

Key Issues: 

Irrawaddy 15 September 2006

Ethnic conservationists and rights activists called o­n the Thai government and investors o­n Friday to withdraw their support for the construction of a dam o­n the Salween River in Shan State, claiming the work will disrupt the lives of people living in the area.

A co-coordinated campaign of protests outside Thai embassies in several countries is to be organized o­n September 21, it was announced at the launch in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, of a report o­n the controversial project.

“We want the Thai government and Thai investors to stop supporting a project which will permanently displace thousands of our people,” said Sai Sai of the Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization at the launch.

The report, entitled “Warning Signs: An Update o­n Plans to Dam the Salween in Burma’s Shan State,” was based o­n research and interviews in the area. The group warned that the completed dam would flood an estimated 870 square kilometers, displacing thousands of people.

“This is a very worrying situation,” said Charm Tong, of the Shan Women’s Action Network. She said that forced labor was being used and the area was being deforested.

The report also said that Burma Army activity had increased in the area in recent years. More military activity meant more human rights abuses, said Charm Tong.

The project was first studied by a Japanese company, Nippon Koei in 1981, and Thailand’s GMS Power Company and Myanmar Economic Cooperation agreed to survey it in 1998. The dam is expected to cost US $6 billion and to generate 7,110 megawatts of electricity when completed in 15 years’ time.

Following an agreement o­n the project in April between the Thai construction company MDX and the Hydroelectric Power Department of Thailand’s Ministry of Electric Power, Burmese officials claimed that that “a certain amount of electricity” will be provided to the local population free of charge and the rest will be sold to Thailand.

Activists claim the planned project will bring more harm than good as has no apparent social and environmental assessments have been made. In order to meet the needs of the local population, proper measures and consultation with concern parties including local residents should be made before proceeding with the project, they say.