Sunday, March 18, 2012
Push to build big dams undermines peace process in Karen State
The push by investors to proceed with large dams in Karen State areas of Burma is threatening to undermine ongoing cease-fire negotiations between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Burmese government, says Karen Rivers Watch.
The increased presence of Burmese troops around dam sites and “blatant disregard for concerns of impacted communities are heightening tensions, and throwing into doubt the government’s sincerity in conducting cease-fire talks,” according to a statement issued on Wednesday. Karen Rivers Watch is a coalition of community-based organizations working to promote sustainable river development.
Two months after an initial cease-fire agreement between the KNU and the government, military tensions have risen around the planned Hatgyi Dam site on the Salween River in Karen State, located 48 kilometres from the Thai border. Unusually large amounts of supplies sent in to Burmese army camps securing the dam site, and the planned deployment of a new battalion in the area, prompted the local KNU commander to reinforce troops around the Burmese bases since last month, the statement said.
Since 2009, the KNU has called for a halt to the dam project until there is a viable peace in Burma, but under pressure from China’s Sinohydro Corporation and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, the KNU agreed in December 2011 to allow further surveys for the dam.
However, they did not give approval for increased Burmese troops, the statement said. Cease-fire talks have so far failed to establish agreements regarding troop movements on both sides.
“At this fragile stage of the cease-fire process, pushing ahead with the Hatgyi Dam will reignite conflict and derail the talks,” said Saw Paul of Karen Rivers Watch. “Investors are sabotaging the hopes of Karen people for lasting peace.”
Growing local resentment against dam-builders is putting increased pressure on KNU to take protective action, irrespective of ongoing cease-fire talks, the statement said.
In February 2012, KNU troops arrested and fined workers of the Chinese-backed “Myanmar Nature Energy Wave,” demanding they stop building the Dah Thway Kyauk Dam, which will flood five Karen villages near Dawei in southern Burma.
Similar resentment is building against the Italian Thai Development Plc (ITD) for pushing ahead with the Taninthayi (Tenasserim) Dam, which will export power to Thailand, and the Ka Loat Hta Dam, which will store water for the Dawei Special Economic Zone.
Local KNU units sought to block ITD’s operations in 2011, but have since been pressured to allow them to continue survey work.
“The Burmese government should show its sincerity by halting all mega-development projects in ethnic areas until there is genuine peace and political reform which guarantees the rights of impacted communities,” Saw Paul said.