Talk of Restarting Myitsone Project Worries Activists

Environmental activists in Burma say that China’s push to restart the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State has them worried that the government could cave in to demands from the country’s powerful northern neighbor.

“Many people here were not happy when they heard about it and are very worried that the project will restart,” said Maung Wuntha, a well-known Burmese writer and journalist in Rangoon.

“Personally, I strongly oppose any resumption of the project,” he said.

Aw Pi Kyeh, a well-known cartoonist in Burma who also participated in the “Save the Irrawaddy” campaign to stop the dam project, said, “They should not go ahead with this project because it will hurt many people in this country.”

He added, however, that since nobody knows about the terms of the contract between the Burmese and Chinese governments, there is a real danger that it will resume.

“We will only agree to let them do it if they can provide all the facts and show them to the people of Burma, the world and environmentalists,” said Aw Pi Kyeh.

In response to China’s recent pressure on Burma to restart construction of the dam, members of the 88 Generation Students group are planning to start a new campaign opposing the project.

Mya Aye, an 88 Generation leader, said, “We are going to have a press conference and will soon start activities related to the Myitsone project.”

“The Irrawaddy River is like a main artery carrying the lifeblood of Burma. Only the Burmese people have the right to decide its fate. We will not accept the interference of any foreign country,” he added.

On Tuesday, the group sent a letter to President Thein Sein urging him to suspend a recent order to residents of the village of Tanghpre to leave the area by March 17.

Many of the villagers had returned to their homes despite the destruction of public buildings in their community, which was one of five villages forced to relocate because of the dam project.

The group said that the government should not force the villagers to leave as it would add to tensions at a time when the country is trying to achieve national reconciliation with ethnic people.

Right activists and environmentalists in Burma say the dam would displace many villagers and damage the ecology of the Irrawaddy River. If completed, the dam will also create a reservoir that will submerge a culturally important site in the ethnic Kachin heartland.

The dam has also been criticized because about 90 percent of the electricity it is expected to generate will be for export to China, while the vast majority of Burma’s citizens have no power.

Burma’s President Thein Sein announced the suspension of the controversial Myitsone dam project on Sept. 30, in response to a mounting public outcry over the project. China Power Investment Corporation, the major investor in the suspended US $3.6 billion project, threatened legal action at the time.

Last week, China urged the Burmese government to restart the project, saying it would produce badly needed electricity for Burma and raise living standards, the official China Daily reported on Sunday.

It quoted a former head of the National Energy Administration, Zhang Guobao, as saying the dam is a good project that will bring local residents a better life.

Photo : Jingpaw Targyi