Activists Reach Halfway Mark in March to Myitsone

By Zarni Mann 22 April 2014

MANDALAY — A group of activists walking from Rangoon to Myitsone, the site of a suspended hydropower dam project in Kachin State, have reached the halfway mark in their march to call for the complete shutdown of the Chinese-backed project.

Around 40 members of the group reached Amarapura, a few kilometers south of Mandalay, on Tuesday morning, while about the same number arrived in Mandalay on Saturday and are now on their way to Myitsone.

The 80 activists, who set out from Rangoon on March 23, split into two groups at Bagan last week, with each one walking along opposite banks of the Irrawaddy River. The two groups plan to rejoin each other at Myitsone, where the Maykha and Malikha rivers join to form the Irrawaddy River.

The activists said the purpose of their march is to raise awareness of the need to completely cancel the dam project, which was suspended by President Thein Sein in September 2011.

At the time, the president said that construction of the dam would be put on hold for as long as he remains in office. He did not, however, rule out the possibility of it being resumed if another president comes to power after elections in 2015.

“President Thein Sein suspended the project because that is what he had to do. But for the sake of the country, it should be abolished completely, because it is only for the benefit of a foreign country, not for the people,” said Nanda Hut, one of the activists who arrived in Amarapura this morning.

“The president’s term in office will end soon, so we have to make sure that whoever takes his place doesn’t restart it. Everyone who lives along the Irrawaddy will be affected by the environmental destruction caused by this project,” he added.

Since starting their march more than a month ago, the activists—who include former political prisoners and members of the opposition National League for Democracy and various youth groups—have been offered food and shelter in a show of support from local people.

In some places, they have also been approached by local authorities demanding to know if they had permission to assemble. In Aunglan Township, Magwe Division, police attempted to stop them, but later allowed them to proceed.

“The police say that they will charge us under the Peace Assembly Law if we don’t have permission, but we don’t care. We will continue our march until we reach our goal,” said Myittar, another activist.

Under the terms of the project, which is mainly backed by the state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), most of the electricity generated would be exported to China. Despite its suspension, the company has expressed a desire to resume construction and has actively sought public support from people in Kachin State.