Global rallies against Salween dams

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Bangkok Post 1 March 2007

By APINYA WIPATAYOTIN


Villagers along rivers fear lives will be ruined

A campaign against planned hydropower dams on the Salween river was launched yesterday in Bangkok and 18 other cities worldwide. Opponents of the plans say the dams will cause serious problems for ethnic minority groups living along the river.

They hope to pressure the government to review and cancel the projects.

More than 1,500 people from 232 domestic and international organisations have signed their names in opposition to the dams.

Peaceful protests were held yesterday in front of the Thai embassy to 10 cities including Washington, New York, Paris, Sydney, Jakarta and Manila.

Protests are planned in another nine cities, including Bangkok, Hanoi, Tokyo and London.

The NGO Coordinating Committee on Development in the North submitted a letter yesterday to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont through Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand.

The letter demanded the government reveal all information about the project, including any negative impact on local communities and the traditional way of life, and cancel the project.

''Egat [Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand] staff have not talked with us about the impact the project will have on our life,'' said Nu Chamnankiriprai, a representative of the Karen living in Mae Hong Son's Mae Sariang district.

''They have never said whether we will be removed from our land or not. What they have frequently told us is that we can have electricity.''

April More, a representative of the Karenni Development Research Group, said the government should not cooperate with the Burmese government in the project, as it would destroy the lives of minority groups living along the Salween river.

A direct impact on the country would also be a massive influx of minority groups into Thailand once their houses were under water, she said.

''This project must be suspended until there is democracy in Burma and the minority groups have access to basic human rights.

''This project is a case of human rights violation because it has been done without the people's participation in making a joint decision,'' she said.

Sairoong Thongplon, manager of the Federation of Consumer Organisations of Thailand, said the government should not take the risk of building such dams.

Thailand's electricity generating capacity was healthy and there was no need to construct new dams or power plants to meet demand, he said.

A memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Energy and Burma's Ministry of Electric Power was signed in May 2005 for the development of five hydropower dams in the Salween and Tanaosri river basins – Ta Sang, Hutgyi, Upper Salween, Lower Salween and Tanintharyi (Tenasserim).

Later that year Egat signed an agreement with Burma's Department of Hydropower to start building the Hutgyi dam, which is about 30 kilometres from the Thai border in Mae Hong Son, later this year.

Egat is entering into a joint venture with the state-owned Sinohydro Corporation of China to fund the project.