Over 300 people in Hsipaw Township, northern Shan State, have protested during a state government visit on Sunday to the site of a planned hydropower dam on the Nam Ma River.
Sai Shan Ta Lon, the Shan State minister for electricity and industry, and other members of the Shan government visited Tar Lon villagers. But protesters prevented them from reaching the village, which will be flooded by the dam.
“They did not let us get inside the village. They refused to negotiate. They just asked us to withdraw the dam project and told us that they did not want compensation,” Sai Shan Ta Lon told The Irrawaddy today.
The villagers said they have been telling the government for a long time but no one cared about what they said, he added.
Construction on the dam project is ongoing despite the protests. The minister said many homes would soon be destroyed by the project and he wanted to meet their owners to provide assistance and help with the preparation.
“We wanted to check how much they will lose if the water from the dam destroys their villages. We could not help them as they refused to negotiate,” Sai Shan Ta Lon said.
The minister said only he was allowed into the village.
“I did not want to argue with them. I just wanted to help but they said if I wanted to help I should stop the dam project,” he said.
Sai Shan Ta Lon said the project would help power the country.
“I did not have the power to tell the government to stop the project. I did not have the power to prevent the project as it is necessary for the country,” he said.
The minister added that his government had a duty to protect the villagers.
The current dam construction is about 25km from Tar Lon and is purportedly more than 30 percent completed.
Tar Lon has around 700 villagers who will be displaced if the dam is completed.
Sai Thun Ai, a village rights activist who opposes the project, told The Irrawaddy: “[The minister’s] trip was part of a campaign but people do not want compensation. They don’t want to be relocated.
“We have been here for generations. We only know how to work this land for our survival, but they tell us we have to relocate,” he said.
Villagers have protested against the construction since 2014.
“We packed our food and went to their workshops and said we did not want to have a dam. But they never listen or discuss it in parliament,” Sai Thun Ai said.
He said Sai Shan Ta Lon blamed protesters and explained that he could offer no help because the villagers had failed to welcome him.
“We told the minister that it was not our first protest, but we have been ignored before,” said Sai Thun Ai.
The government built a dam in 2008 and did not tell farmers it would flood their fields and homes, he said.