Dam will displace thousands

Key Issues: 

The Nation 1 March 2007

By Subhatra Bhumiprabhas

Reservoirs could send 100,000 more refugees into Thailand

Karenni and Shan refugees from Burma yesterday urged the Thai government to stop building hydroelectric dams on the Salween River – warning that they would displace another 100,000 people.

The last Yintalie tribe would be driven from its home if the dams went ahead, according to April Moe, a 23-year-old Karenni woman who spoke in Bangkok yesterday about the refugees' plight.

The Karenni state community numbers just 1,000 today.

Speaking at the office of the National Human Rights Commission, Moe warned the government the dams it is building with the Burmese military junta would displace tens of thousands.

As many as 30,000 people in her state and another 35,000 from Karen state, plus more people from Shan and Karen communities in Thailand would be affected, she said.

The governments of Thailand and Burma agreed in 2004 to build four dams on the Salween River.

Last October, Thailand's Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand said the projects would be deferred, but on February 24 the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand included construction of the Hut Gyi and Thasang dams in its draft power-development plan.

"I want the people who are going to build this project to reconsider their plans, if they do not want to prolong people's suffering under the military dictatorship," she said.

The dams are being built in the middle of an area contested by the Burma junta and ethnic minorities. Already more than 100,000 Karenni have been driven from their homes. Another 22,000 Karenni have fled to Thailand since the mid-1990s.

"I want you to think carefully about internally displaced persons in Burma and the refugees who are living in camps in Thailand," Moe said. She has lived in a Mae Hong Song refugee camp since she was four. "Everyone wants to go back to our home," she said.

The Salween dams will affect another 100,000 people – or one third of the all people in Karenni state - who rely on the river for their livelihoods, she said. And more refugees would flee to Thailand.

Shan refugee Charm Tong said more than 400,000 villagers in Shan and Karen states had been displaced since the Salween dam projects were started.

"There are lots of Shan villagers still hiding in jungles and many more fleeing to Thailand who cannot find shelter because there is no refugee camp for the Shan [in Thailand]," she said via relay from Norway.