06/30/2006, 00.00
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Myanmar: Karen oppose dam that will benefit government and hit people hard

The Hat Gyi dam in Karen state will be constructed as a joint venture between Thailand, Myanmar and China; the three countries are keeping project details secret. Thousands of Karen villagers have already been displaced with the help of the Burmese army.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The people of Karen in Myanmar have urged Thai environmentalists and human rights activists stop the construction of a dam on the Salween river near the Thai border. The dam, which may be followed by another four, is part of a joint large-scale economic project between Yangon, Beijing and Bangkok. All benefits will go to the respective governments with disregard for the needs of the people.

The Mae Sot-based Karen River Watch (KRW) said the dams could displace as many as 80,000 people from local villages. KRW executive Lawplah urged "the Thai public and local Karen people to work with us to protest against the Hat Gyi dam project, because it will have a heavy impact on people while all benefits will go to the Burmese military government."

Works on the dam at Hat Gyi – near Myaing Gyi Ngu in Karen state – are scheduled to start not earlier than mid- 2007, and commercial energy distribution will be possible around 2013. The dam will have a capacity of 600 megawatts and will be able to irrigate an area equal to the size of one-third of Singapore. Most of the electricity generated will go to Thailand.

The Burmese government agreed last December to the Hat Gyi project, and it was announced in China earlier this week that it will be constructed as a joint venture between Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and the Chinese state-owned Sinohydro Corporation. Sinohydro said the US billion project is the biggest ever signed by the three countries. Details of the agreement to construct a series of dams, as well as the results of site surveys, have been declared as "confidential", but Thai environmentalists said this contravenes Thailand's constitution.

Lawplah said many Karen villages had already been forcibly moved by the Burmese army as part of an operation to secure lands surrounding the site of the future dam. In 1996, when project surveys were launched, more than 300,000 people were displaced. The KRW executive said the army had placed landmines to prevent villagers returning. The growing militarization of the area is proportional to the increase in cases of torture and other human rights violations. The KRW, an umbrella organisation of six Karen groups, said Burmese Army battalion 202 and its militia allies, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army's Battalion 777, had already moved into the Hat Gyi area.

Lawplah expressed concern: "Now that Thailand has joined hands with the Chinese government and the Burmese regime, we need to protests to show. Thai human rights groups have more chance of success of fighting the dam project by using their country's legal system."

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