Concern over dams on Salween, Mekong

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The Nation 24 November 2006

By Subhatra Bhumiprahas

Chiang Mai -- Dozens of academics and members of civil society groups called on the new government yesterday to respect the rights of people in the Mekong-Salween region who will be affected by state projects - notably dams proposed on both sides of the country.

About half of the 400 participants at a seminar in Chiang Mai signed an open letter urging Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont to review government policies that will directly affect more than 100 million people in six countries along the Mekong and Salween rivers.

Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Saneh Chamarik was one who signed the letter at the "Mekong-Salween: People, Water, and the Golden Land of Southeast Asia" seminar.

The move follows a series of highly controversial dam proposals in Burma quietly backed by the Thaksin Shinawatra government.

The Thai government last year signed a memorandum of understanding with the Burmese military junta to study the possibility of building dams in the Salween and Tenasserim river basins.

The six planned projects would seriously affect the way of life of large numbers in Burma's ethnic areas, and may have already led to forced relocation in Shan and Karen states.

Prime Minister Surayud yesterday was on an official visit to Burma but the letter was faxed to his office at Government House.

"We, who signed the letter, demand that your government review the policies or projects that would lead to dam constructions on Mekong and Salween rivers as well as investments in big projects that would disturb the ecosystem and way of life of the people," the letter said.

"The two fertile rivers feed more than 100 million people and have passed on cultural heritages as well as wisdom in natural resource management based on mutual sustainable benefits for generations. No government or no single international organisation has the right to dictate any decision on development project that would affect their way of life and future."

The letter also urged the interim prime minister to focus not only on a free-trade economy but also issues of human security, natural resources, and the lifestyles of the river communities.

The seminar was organised by the Social Sciences and Humanities Foundation. Other signatories included Charnvit Kasetsiri, Shalardchai Ramitanond, Viroj Tangwanich and Witoon Permpongsacharoen.

Laos has just revealed plans for 23 dams on the Mekong by 2020, to generate electricity for Thailand and Vietnam, said Witoon, director of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance.