Anti-Dam Protesters Complete Marathon Irrawaddy March

By Nyein Nyein 19 May 2014

Two months after setting off from Rangoon on a northerly trek up the Irrawaddy River, marchers calling for the Chinese-backed Myitsone hydropower dam project to be permanently halted finally reached their destination in Kachin State on Saturday.

Setting out on March 14—the International Day of Action for Rivers—the 84 marchers have passed through places including Bagan, Mandalay, Katha in Sagaing Division, and Myitkyina in Kachin State, ending their about 1,000-mile journey at Myitsone, at the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha rivers, where the project is located.

President Thein Sein suspended work on the massive dam in 2011 amid widespread public anger against the construction, a joint venture between the Chinese state-owned China Power Investment (CPI) and Burmese firm Asia World.

The marchers traveled two different routes to from Bagan, with the first group completing the journey on May 9 and the second on Sunday, said Ye Htut Khaung, a march leader and the secretary of the Former Political Prisoners Society.

“We divided into two groups to be able to increase awareness about the Myitsone dam in as many towns and villages as possible,” Ye Htut Khaung said. “We have gained a lot of support from the public across townships.”

On May 9, the first group to arrive held a protest at front of the Myitsone project office, together with the local supporters.

“After the protest, the company let us to see their project, but we did not stay long and did not talk much as the local villagers were excluded,” said Ye Htut Khaung.

Ja Khon, a local resident and a member of local Kachin civil society group Mung Chying Rawd Jat, said locals in Myitsone were supportive of the marchers since many were relocated in 2010 to make way for the dam project.

“The villagers in the Myitsone area welcome the effort of those marchers,” Ja Khon said, adding that many people had moved back to the confluence area since last year to return to their farms or to pan for gold in the river.

The marchers returned to Rangoon on Sunday, but Ye Htut Khaung said his group will return to the confluence in June to form a “Committee to Stop the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam,” together with environmentalists, local residents and legal experts.