Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Kachin pro-independence movement is opposing the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams along the northern border between Myanmar and China. This is revealed by sources close to the ethnic rebel group which, despite signing a peace agreement with the Burmese junta in 1994, exercises substantial control over the area and frequently engages in armed clashes with government troops.
The Kachin denounce their lack of involvement in the agreement, signed in 2007, between the ruling dictatorship and executives of the multinational China Datang Corporation; the agreement provides for the construction of nine hydroelectric plants along the Chinese border.
Tension broke out two weeks ago over the refusal on the part of Chinese authorities to pay a sort of "construction tax" to the leaders of the ethnic rebels; in response, the rebels sent militia groups to the construction sites to block work on the dams. Tarpein 1 and Tarpein 2 are the first two in a series of nine dams planned by the Burmese energy ministry, in collaboration with Chinese companies. They take their name from the river that runs through the northern city of Momauk, and once they begin functioning, they will provide 240 and 168 megawatts respectively.
Sources close to the pro-independence movement confirm that the work resumed a week ago, after the payment of 1.5 million yuan (a little more than 220,000 dollars) by executives of the construction companies. The agreement was overseen by the new commander of the northern brigade, General Soe Win, who mediated between the parties, permitting work to resume.
In addition to the economic interests and control of the territory involved, the Burmese-Chinese project has unleashed protests from environmentalists who are afraid of serious repercussions for the environment. "The fear", reveals environmental expert Naw La in interview with the Irrawaddy, "is that the local population is not being involved in the project, and must pay the consequences. The benefits will go only to the Burmese government and to the Chinese companies, while the inhabitants of the villages will suffer serious damage from deforestation and flooding".
The most important of the nine hydroelectric plants being built is the one in Myitsone: it will be located 42 kilometers north of Myitkyina, capital of the state of Kachin, and will produce about 3,600 megawatts of electricity.