Sunday, March 18, 2012

Karen IDPs protest dam projects on Salween River

E-tu Hta Karen refugee camp

(Mizzima) - Hundreds of men, women and children thronged the sand bank of Salween river in the boat-stop area of E-tu Hta temporary Karen Refugee Camp. They came together on March 14 to observe the International Day of Action for Rivers and to protest against dam projects on the Salween.

People listened to speakers providing information, support and encouragement before floating a raft with a poster saying "No Dam" down the Salween. The villagers are Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from Ho Kay, Por Ka Der and E-tu Hta refugee camp.

E-tu Hta temporary refugee camp lies on the banks of the Salween river, the border between Karen state in Burma and Mae Hong Son Province in Thailand. The year marks the sixth consecutive anti-dam event focused on the Salween River, coordinated by Karen Rivers Watch, a coalition of Karen social groups along with villagers. They have been organizing events annually since 2004.

“This annual event of anti-dam day aims to keep the spirit of awareness of dams on the Salween River up-to-date and show the solidarity that our Karen people have towards broader anti-dam movement (or global movement) organized by other people affected by dams. We are against mega dams; full stop”, said Saw Johnny Lay, the spokesperson for KRW and the primary event organiser.

There are three dams proposed for the Salween River - the Wei Gyi, Dagwei and Hat Gyi in a conflict zone.

Villagers are concerned that these dams will repeat the mistakes of previous dam construction projects; people being forcibly removed from their livelihood and homes; Karen people being the target of vicious assaults and random killings; destruction of the ecological balance of the area; and people’s traditional way of life. Many of them shared their bitter experience of the Law Pi Ta dam construction in Karenni State and ongoing
One day before the event, there was a women's forum with local villagers and a children's forum with basic education for students in the area organized to educate the villagers, with more than a hundred women and children participating in one day workshops. These activities included an update on the dam situation and encouraged participation in environmental protection.

Saw Lawplah, one of the organisers said, "We need a people-to-people advocating strategy--to expand our idea, and to make sure that environmental idea is in all our Karen hearts. Karen for Karen people."

This message of "No Dam" by the protesters loudly proclaims to all those people living along the Salween that there is a concerted effort to protect the Salween from dams. 


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