24 September 2014 | Eleven Myanmar
As the military adds more troops near Hatgyi dam on the Thanlwin River, local residents are becoming increasingly alarmed about a renewal of clashes between armed ethnic groups and the Tatmadaw, say members of non-governmental organisations monitoring the river and conducting research.
Armed ethnic groups around the Hatgyi dam include the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Karen National Union (KNU). Members of the Border Guard Force and the Union military are also in the area.
“When building the dams, more soldiers are deployed for security. At present, eight regiments are being expanded at the southern part of the dam,” said Saw Tha Bo of the Kayin Thanlwin River watch group.
"We are still working for a nationwide ceasefire ... if clashes break out again, work towards a ceasefire will be ruined. Taking up bases in this area may result in clashes again," Saw Tha Bo added.
He also raised concerns about the location selected for the Weigyi dam downstream from the Hatgyi dam. Units of the Border Guard Force are already there, he said.
About 3,000 internally displaced persons live upstream from the Hatgyi dam and they are worried about a renewal of clashes, Saw Tha Bo added.
The Hatgyi dam is situated about 29 miles downstream from where the Thaungyin River joins the Thanlwin, in Hlaing Bwe Township, Karen State, an area that has seen fighting for decades before ceasefires were signed between the rebel armies and the Union government last year.
The project will be implemented by IGE Co, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and Sinohydro Corp of China. It is expected to generate about 1,360 Megawatts.
“It isn’t fair for the locals. The environment and the place will be ruined. If they lose their homes, there may be clashes with ethnic armed forces or the military,” said Win Myo Thu of EcoDev.
“The issue needs thorough coordination. But there are times when even questions asked in Parliament aren’t answered. So, will the government answer questions asked by the public? If they don't there may be more unsatisfactory cases among the public. If the people think the project is unfair, it will not be good for the project,” Win Myo Thu added.
He noted that the Kachin conflict was sparked by the Tapain dam project. When the military strive for more influence in a region, clashes between ethnic armed forces and the military flare, he said, adding that if the government continues to pursue this method there will be more tension with ethnic armies.
Colonel Saw Maung Kya of the DKBA said, “We totally object to this dam project. Given the way the government is making excuses to build the dam, the addition of more regiments may take place. This will lead to more clashes.”
“Thai and Chinese companies often come here for talks, but we still object to this project. If the government insists on building this dam, it is sure that clashes will begin,” the colonel added.
The dam projects planned on the Thanlwin River give little benefit to local residents, according to environmentalist Nyo Maung.
The Ministry of Electricity said it is planning to build about 32 hydro power projects on prominent rivers in Myanmar, with foreign investment. Most of the foreign investment is from China into joint ventures that will follow the build operate and transfer model.
More than 10 million people rely on the Thanlwin River. If the dam projects are implemented, they will primarily affect minority groups living along its banks, such as Yintalei who number only about 1,000 people.