Abhisit cool to opponents of Salween River dam plan

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Bangkok Post 24 November 2009

Ethnic villagers and civilian groups yesterday rallied outside Government House to demand the government abandon a proposed mega-dam construction on the Salween river.


Environmental and human rights activists and villagers hold placards slamming the controversial Hutgyi dam project on the Salween River in Burma during a rally outside Government House yesterday. The proposed dam will be a joint venture between the Thai, Burmese and Chinese governments. APICHIT JINAKUL

"We urge you to abandon the Hutgyi dam project to defend human rights, sustain the environment and protect local livelihoods for generations to come," the group stated in a petition it had drawn up to present to the government.

An Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) development, the 1,360-megawatt hydropower dam is to be built on the Salween river in the strife-ridden Karen state, 47 kilometres from the Thai-Burma border in Sop Moei district, Mae Hong Son province.

The project is a joint venture between Egat International, a Chinese state-owned enterprise Sinohydro Cooperation, and Burma's Hydropower Department within the country's Ministry of Electric Power.

Around 50 protesters, representing 189 environmental and human rights organisations, said the dam, if built, would intensify human rights violation in Burma and destroy the ecological system of the free-flowing Salween river.

"The Hutgyi dam will change the width of the Salween river, flooding some areas of Sop Moei village, where an official border demarcation has not yet been determined.

"Given this situation where the border will be distorted, the project's implementation must strictly comply with Section 190 of the 2007 Constitution," the petition said.

The colourful protest, with enlarged pictures of the fertile Salween river and placards condemning Egat for ignoring the plight of villagers, met with a cool response from the Abhisit government.

The demonstrators demanded Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva meet them and receive the petition himself. But he reportedly assigned an Egat executive to accept the letter instead.

"This shows the government's ignorance of our petition and our information. I think the government wants to build the Hutgyi dam, so they are turning a blind eye to us," said Karen villager Pairote Panapraisakul, who travelled from Ban Tha Ta Fang on the bank of Salween river in Mae Hong Son.

The protesters later handed a protest letter to Asean Human Rights Committee member Sriprapha Petharamesree.