Thailand urged to stop construction of Salween dams

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The Irawaddy 19 October 2009

Fifty-one human rights and environmental groups have submitted a petition to the Thai government calling for it to halt the construction of dams on the Salween River.

Thailand is in partnership with Burma and other countries to construct five dams on the river.

The petition was submitted to the government during a meeting of the Association of Southeast Nations People’s Forum in Hua Hin, Thailand.

Sai Sai, the coordinator of the Salween Watch Coalition, said, “The Salween dams will only mean more fighting and more refugees fleeing to Thailand.”

Attacks by Burma’s military government on armed units of the United Wa State Army, which controls the roads between the intended 7,110 megawatt Ta Sang dam and the Thai border, would lead to a massive new refugee influx into northern Thailand, the group said in a statement on Monday.

Thai military sources recently estimated about 200,000 refugees in Shan State are expected to enter northern Thailand through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces if wider armed conflicts break out in the area between government forces and ethnic armed groups.

The environmental groups also said that various dam projects on the Salween River will not provide guaranteed energy security for Thailand, as military operations and human rights violations committed by government troops have increased recently around the planned Hat Gyi dam site in Karen State and the Ta Sang dam site in Shan State.

“Building dams in Burma’s war zones makes no sense if Thailand wants a stable power supply,” said Montree Chantawong of the Thailand-based environmental group Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA), which includes more than 20 international and regional environmental organizations.

In June, more than 3,500 ethnic Karen refugees fled to Thailand following a military offensive launched by government troops against Karen National Liberation Army Brigade 7 in order to control roads and power transmission routes to the planned 1,360 megawatt Hat Gyi dam, according to a statement issued by TERRA.

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 Thailand-based Shan Sapawa Environment Organization said that a community of 15,000 people around Keng Kham in Shan State was forced to move 10 years ago because of work on the Ta Sang dam and most had fled to Thailand.

Thailand currently depends on Burmese natural gas for 12.2 percent of its total power capacity and has recently suffered from supply interruptions, according the groups’ statement.

Five dams are under construction or in the planning stages on the Salween River. Four will export electricity to Thailand, and one to China. 

The National Power Development Plan of Thailand, which includes electricity from the dams on the Salween River, is to be completed by the year 2014, according to environmental groups.