Dams in Burma to displace thousands

Dams in Burma to displace thousands

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January 27, 2008

The Shan Herald reports that the first construction phase of the Tasang Dam is nearing completion. According to a source from the Thai/Burma border, Chinese dam builders have been at the site since last November, and have so far installed about 90% of the dams pillars.

The Tasang is the largest of 4 dams currently planned for the Salween River, in Shan State, Burma. Once the Tasang is operational, thousands of Karen, Karenni, Mon, Shan, Wa, Pa-O, Lahu, Padaung, Akha, Lisu and Palaung – face displacement at the hands of the Burmese Military. Salween Watch informs us, that, “already over 300,000 people have been forcibly relocated from the areas since dam studies commenced in 1996.” An increased military presence has also “led to an increase of reports of torture, extrajudicial killing, and other human rights abuses, including forced labour – something “well documented” according to a Briefing Paper by the International Rivers Network.

As you would probably guess, there’s never been any type of consultation, public discussion, or effort to compensate the effected peoples. Nor will there be any. Unfortunately, the same is true for the other 28 dams currently planned for Burma.

For instance, there is the Shweli project, also in Shan state – which immediately threatens the Palaung village of Man Tat. The Youth Network Group recently published the report, Under the Boot (pdf), which details, for starters, how the Palaung village “has been overrun by hundreds of Burmese troops and Chinese construction workers. Villagers have been suffering land confiscation, forced labour, and restriction on movement” ever since 2000, when the soldiers just moved in… The village didn’t even know there was going to be a dam on the nearby river until this happened.

The Irrawaddy Myitsone dam in Kachin State in another. According to “Damming the Irrawaddy (pdf),” a report put together by the All Kachin Student and Youth Union, more than 10,000 Kachin from 47 villages currently face displacement. “The dam will not only harm Kachin people but millions of Burmese who depend on the Irrawaddy to eke out a living,'” Naw La, spokesperson of the KDNG, said shortly after the report was released. Not to mention the fact that the dam site is less than 100 kilometers from Burma’s earthquake-prone Sagaing fault line. “Dam breakage would be disastrous for Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State, which lies only 40 kilometers downstream,” the report states.

Then we have the Tamanthi Project in Western Sagaing, which threatens to displace more than
3600 Indigenous Kukis. According to the Anti-Tamanthi Dam Campaign Committee (ATDCC), much of the Kukis’s lands will be seized, they will “be for sure subjected to forced labor till completion of the work,” and they will be subjugated or suppressed “by the Army arranged settlement of influx and poor Burmans from cities and prisoners (who will purposely outnumber and reduce the regional Kukis to minority) on the pretext of poverty eradication program. (Thousands of houses have already been constructed in other parts of the Kuki areas with the same purpose).”

In the name of profit and power, the consequences of these four developments projects are but a fraction of what’s being done to the people of Burma; who themselves have few if any options (and just about as much public support and solidarity, internationally speaking. I’m talking beyond simple words).

The story is quite different on a local level, but only so much can be done when the initial response of the government is one of violence. Perhaps if all the active human rights groups consolidated their efforts the chances for justice would increase? Especially if they focused on the ones giving Burma the reason to commit these human rights abuses…

At the moment there is some effort to this end. Namely there’s a petition people can sign which asks the Government of China to help ensure a policy of “peaceful development” and social responsibility guides these hydro projects.

I’m a little surprised though… at the moment there’s only 124 names on the petition. I was fully expecting to see at least 30,000. At the very minimum, it will take such a number for the government of China take the petition seriously. That is, unless they see the strategic advantage in doing what America, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and so many other Nation states have nether the will or interest.

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