03/12/2012, 00.00
MYANMAR - CHINA
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Beijing pressuring Myanmar to restart Myitsone dam construction

Despite the halt ordered by President Thein Sein in September, Chinese state-owned company and the Myanmar government continue to discuss reopening the site. Local sources say work on the dam never really stopped. For them, the relationship between Beijing and Naypyidaw are ambiguous.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - "Active" talks are underway between the Burmese government and China Power Investment Corp to restart work on the Myitsone hydroelectric dam officially halted some months ago until 2015 on orders of the president of Myanmar, Thein Sein, ostensibly for an environmental review, in reality for further demolitions and the construction of access roads to the site. In the meantime, the authorities have ordered residents in Tanhpre village near the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin state on the border with China to move.

The Myitsone Dam is a US$ 3. 6 billion joint project of the Myanmar Industry Ministry, Asia World and the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) to build a 3,600 megawatt-dam to supply power to the Chinese province of Yunnan.

The project has caused the forced relocation of 15,000 residents from some 60 villages. Local Christians have slammed the destruction of a grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary to which they were devoted.

Pressures from the Chinese multinational appear to be behind demands to restart construction. CPI chairman Lu Qizhou said that once the concerns of the Burmese government were addressed, he would like to see the project resume as soon as possible.

In recent days, local authorities arrested and later released a dozen people, including a nun and a Baptist clergyman, for opposing the forced relocation of Tanhpre residents. Some witnesses said the pastor was beaten when he was arrested.

Local authorities told residents that they must leave by 17 March. The evacuation order is signed by Myanmar Vice President Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo. Residents must move to a new village, which has no farmland or food for animals. If they refuse, they risk six to 12 months in jail.

Sources tell AsiaNews that more troops are being deployed to Kachin State despite talks between the central government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which represents the ethnic minority.

"We can't trust the government because changes have only been superficial," an anonymous Burma expert said. Work is probably going on behind the scene. The relationship between Beijing and Naypyidaw is ambiguous.

Greater openness in Yangon, greater press freedom and growth in tourism "do not mean real change".

The release of some political prisoners is an "important step", but "many, unknown people" are still in prison amid the general silence.

"For them, change has not yet come. Real peace in Myanmar will come only when full reconciliation is achieved with ethnic minorities," the source said. (DS)

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