Environmentalists call on govt to halt hydropower projects

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Myanmar Times 3 November 2013

By Aung Shin

An environmental group has called on the government to halt hydropower projects on the Thanlwin River, claiming they threaten not only environmental and social security, but also the peace process.

At an October 29 press conference in Yangon, a member of the Burma Rivers Network (BRN) said the dams were “fuelling war”.

BRN members the Karen Rivers Watch, Shan Sapawa, Marenni Civil Society Network, Mon Youth Progressive Organisation and Love Salween [Thanlyin] Group told journalists they had been monitoring the impact of the planned dams for 10 years.

At least 50 clashes had occurred between ethnic armed groups and the army because of the projects, and thousands of refugees had fled the fighting since the current government came to power, said the network.

“These clashes occurred even when a cease-fire was in place. It’s very clear that the Salween [Thanlyin] dams are fuelling war. If President U Thein Sein really wants peace, he should stop the dams immediately,” said Sai Khur Hseng, an environmental researcher from Shan Sapawa.

In March the army launched an offensive to force the Shan State Army (North) out of bases along the Thanlyin near Nong Pha and Man Tong dam sites, leading to the displacement of 2000 villagers in Tangyan, he said.

“The army’s border guard force attacked the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army in May to drive them from Hatgyi dam site. The villagers from this area fled to refugee camps on the Thai border,” said a spokesperson for Karen Rivers Watch.

In February, the ministry of electric power informed hluttaw of six hydropower projects ready for implementation, and spoke of a feasibility study of three of the projects.

A ministry official told The Myanmar Times in August that “the survey is complete in respect of three projects, as we are going to build six dams. We are going to sign an agreement with foreign companies within three months. The construction period could be four to 10 years depending on the size of the dam.”

The projects are at Kwanlon, with a capacity of 1400 megawatts, Naungpha with 1000MW, Manntaung (200MW) and Mainton (7110MW) in Shan State, Ywarthit (4000MW) in Kaya State and Hatkyi (1360MW) in Kayin State.

The Thanlyin is an international waterway that passes through China, Myanmar and Thailand. China plans to build 27 dams on its section of the river. Myanmar’s dam projects will affect the whole river basin, said Witoon Permponsacharoen of the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net).

The Myanmar government plans to sell the electricity produced by the dams. The ministry of electric power will go ahead with the projects after signing agreements with five Chinese companies, one Thai company and three Myanmar companies. The ministry says Myanmar will receive 15 percent of electricity, and the right to buy a further 25pc.