The Mytsone project would dam for the first time the Irrawaddy River, the cradle of Burmese civilisation. Whilst Beijing is pressing for work to resume, Myanmar wavers. About 90 per cent of the power generated by the complex would go to China. One of the most authoritative voices against the dam is Card Charles Maung Bo.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – About 10,000 people in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state staged a massive rally Thursday to protest against the controversial Chinese-backed Myitsone Dam, a project to be built at the confluence of the Mali and N’Mai rivers, which form the Irrawaddy River.
The project was put on hold in 2011. Yesterday morning, Kachin activists, political leaders, religious leaders, civil society groups, and ordinary people rallied at Manaw park in the State capital of Myitkyina, marching peacefully through the streets of the city to express their opposition.
The US$ 3.6-billion, 6,400-megawatt project is controlled by China’s State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC). Should it be completed, it would be the first dam to block the Irrawaddy River, the cradle of Burmese civilisation.
In 2011, following widespread local protests against the dam’s potential environmental impact, then Myanmar President Thein Sein halted construction, angering Beijing. It is estimated that about 90 per cent of the power generated would go to China.
Now Beijing wants construction to resume but the government’s hesitation has angered people in Kachin State.
“The mega dam is not for us,” said lead protester Steven Naw Awng. Instead, “we will lose our lives and property because of it. So, we are all gathering to express our opposition [to the project] and demand its termination so that the Irrawaddy can flow freely.”
Duwa Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, leader of the Kachin Democratic Party, agrees. “This is a call for a permanent halt of Myitsone dam project,” he said. “We consider [China’s move] an act of bullying because it looks like they are trying to get what they want, so I’d like to urge the government to address the issue decisively.”
A statement released by protest organisers calls on the Chinese companies involved in the project to respect the wishes of the people and contribute to good bilateral relations by giving up on their plans.
Since ethnic Kachin are largely Christian, many leaders of the Catholic and Baptist Churches took part in the demonstration.
Three days ago, Christian leaders also spoke with General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces. The latter reassured them that the Armed Forces would respect the will of the population.
One of the most authoritative voices against the Myitsone dam is Card Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon and president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
On 28 January, Myanmar’s first cardinal penned a public letter in which he defined the project as a "death sentence to the people of Myanmar" because of its environmental damage as well as its impact on the country's prospects for peace after decades of civil war.