Local opposition grows in Burma as Thailand's Hat Gyi Salween Dam project bulldozes ahead

Key Issues: 

Press Release, Karen River Watch 20 August 2007

Two Thai boats bought to transport surveyors for a massive hydro-electric dam on Burma's Salween River were forced on August 8th to return to Thailand by local villagers in Burma opposed to the project.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) had attempted to send two large river boats to assist its staff now working inside Burma at the Hat Gyi dam site, 46 kilometers from Thailand's Sop Moei District. While traveling down the Salween River, local Karen villagers stopped the two boats and told their Thai drivers they were not allowed to come to this area as they were opposed to the dam. The two boats then returned to Thailand's Mae Sot via the Moei River, leaving the EGAT staff stranded without adequate river transportation.

EGAT and Burma's military junta have recently begun final preparations for construction of the 1,200 megawatt hydro-electric dam. During July 21st to July 25th fifteen EGAT officials visited the Hat Gyi site together with U Min Khaing, Deputy Director General of Burma'sDepartment of Hydroelectric Power. Soldiers from the Burma Army's Light Infantry Battalion 22 provided security for the visiting Thai dignitaries while traveling in the war zone where the dam will be built.

Meanwhile, two new groups of EGAT engineers and staff have recently arrived at the Hat Gyi site. 30 EGAT employees arrived on July 3rd and in the first week of August another group arrived along with heavy construction equipment.

Thailand's Chulalongkorn University was commissioned by EGAT in September 2006 to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment for the Hat Gyi dam. Despite being paid an estimated 80 million baht by EGAT to do the assessment, the EIA team has been unable to access approximately half of the stretch of river that will be part of the projected flood area as it is under control of the Karen resistance.

The Karen National Union recently restated their opposition to the dam during a meeting with Thai military counterparts. On July 20th, last month, the KNU border committee met with Thai Third Army officers and explained that their opposition to the giant dam was based on the fact that it would permanently destroy local lands and livelihoods, devastate the natural heritage sites of its peoples and result in a massive build-up of Burma Army troops in Karen areas.

Similar to recently announced plans of other mega hydro-electric dams to be built in Burma by China and Bangladesh, Burma will allow Thailand to build the Hat Gyi Dam inside its territory, thus leaving the negative social and environmental impacts inside Burma in exchange for new revenues for the junta. The 2005 MOU of the Hat Gyi dam describes how "In exchange for the use of land, water and other resources in the Union of Myanmar" EGAT will provide royalties as well as a small percentage of free electricity to Burma's junta. The MOU also states that the Hat Gyi dam will state to be constructed in November 2007 and begin operating at the beginning of 2013.