KNU asks Thai Government to pull out of Salween dam project

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The Irrawaddy 4 August 2009

By SAW YAN NAING

Burma’s Karen National Union (KNU) appealed on Tuesday to the Thai government to halt its involvement in the construction of the Hat Gyi Dam on the Salween River, warning that the project would cause “huge” environmental damage and human rights abuses.

The KNU made the appeal in a letter to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

David Takapaw, KNU vice chairman, said: “The dam will result in huge environmental impacts and human rights abuses. It will force local villagers to flee to Thailand and become refugees. So we asked him: please, don’t continue the dam construction.”

In recent months, Thai engineers have conducted a field survey at the construction site on Salween River. Many villagers in the area are reportedly opposed to the dam project.

According to the Karen River Watch, a memorandum of understanding was signed in June 2006 between Burma’s Department of Electric Power, the Thai energy authority EGAT and China’s Sinohydro Corporation to build the Hat Gyi dam.

The dam is one of a series scheduled to be built on the Salween River in a joint Thai-Burmese government program. They are expected to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity, much of which would be delivered to Thailand.

Some reports have claimed that the dams will affect more than 10 million people from 13 ethnic groups in Burma.

Copies of the KNU’s letter to Abhisit were also to be presented by Karen environmental advocates at a meeting in Bangkok on Tuesday attended by Thai environmental rights groups and Burmese environmental advocates.

The meeting was to focus on human rights abuses and environment issue related to the project, according to an ethnic Shan environmental advocate, Sai Sai, who attended the meeting.

Thailand plans an energy program known as the National Power Development Plan which includes the dams on the Salween River. The plan is expected to be completed by the year 2014, according to Sai Sai.

Meanwhile, his environmental group, the Shan Sapawa Environment Organization (SSEO), released on Tuesday a new report titled “Roots and Resilience” and charging that the construction of dams on the Salween River will result in human rights abuses and environmental damage and will benefit only the Burmese regime and Thai authorities.

SSEO Spokesman Sai Sai said: “Human rights abuses will widely happen if the dam is constructed. Villagers will come to Thailand en masse as refugees.”

Local villagers would receive no benefit from the dams, which would serve only the interests of the Burmese regime and neighboring Thailand, he said.

The environmental damage would include flooding, deforestation and the disappearance of traditional and cultural heritages, Sai Sai maintained.

The SSEO report said the biggest Salween River dam, the Tasang dam, would flood more than 100 villages, forcing thousands of villagers to relocate. One community of 15,000 in Keng Kham, Shan State, had been forced to move 10 years ago because of work on the dam, and most had fled to Thailand, the report said.

Most of the electricity generated by the 7,110 MW Tasang dam will be sold to Thailand. Project investors include the Thai MDX Company and China’s Gezhouba Group Company.