Salween Dam Projects Could Affect Burma’s Peace Process

By Khin Oo Tha 19 February 2014

Without a political settlement between ethnic armed groups and the government, the continuation of dam projects on eastern Burma’s Salween River could impact upon the current peace efforts in the country, a leading Shan human rights group says.

“The project area is not stable yet and it’s close to Kokang troops and the Wa region, and also, war refugees are being scattered in the area due to fighting between the Burma Army and Palaung rebels,” Nang Kwarn Lake, a spokesperson from the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF), told The Irrawaddy.

In a report released on Feb. 13, SHRF said a dam project area in Kunlong Township is adjacent to Kutkhaing Township in the Wa self-administered region, where clashes between the government troops and that of the ethnic Palaung Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) or the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) often take place. There are currently about five battalions of the Burma Army stationed in the dam area, it said.

Myint Zaw, the deputy minister for Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power, has told lawmakers in a parliamentary meeting that six foreign-backed hydropower projects would be constructed on the currently undammed Salween River, also known as the Thanlwin.

The SHRF report called for the projects to be stopped completely because they lack transparency, locals have not been properly consulted, and human rights violations have taken place both within and outside of the project areas.

Nang Kwarn Lake said farmland belonging to about 20,000 people living in more than 60 villages along the Salween River has so far been damaged, and many homes have been destroyed, since the project-related works started. Many more problems are likely to occur in the future that’s why this project should be ended, she said.

“No compensation has been given although houses, rubber plantations and farmland were destroyed as roads were constructed for the project,” complained the SHRF spokesperson. “Locals are not benefited from this so, it should be stopped. We are now launching a petition campaign, calling for an end of the dam projects and collecting signatures form people living by the Salween River in Shan and Karen states.”

The SHRF said it will send the petition to President Thein Sein, Parliament, other authorities and the companies taking care of project construction as well as to the Chinese and Thai governments.

The six dam projects will reportedly have a combined capacity of about 15,000 megawatts.

“We have learned that 90 percent of electricity produced by these dams will be exported to China and Thailand, and 10 percent will be delivered to other cities in Burma, so locals will be given nothing,” said Nang Kwarn Lake.

According to the Burma Rivers Network, a coalition of several environmental groups from eastern Burma, the dam projects on Salween River will be jointly constructed by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, China Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, and Burma’s Shwe Taung Hydropower Company and the state-run Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise.

Other Burmese business firms such as Asia World and IGE are also working on the dams, according to SHRF.