Thursday, August 11, 2011

Suu Kyi releases statement on dams in ethnic areas, pressuring gov't

Thursday, 11 August 2011 23:23 Tun Tun

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader in Burma, is adroitly entering the public arena, establishing her views on important national issues. Her latest foray is the release of an open letter on the controversial dams being built on the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River in ethnic areas.

The Myitsone or Maykha-Malikha confluence into the
Irrawaddy River. The Myitsone hydropower project
will have a capacity of 6,000 magawatts and is the
most controversial dam on the
Irrawaddy river. Photo: Mizzima
The statement released on Thursday is the latest example of her recent emergence into public life after years of house arrest.

“However, there is a downside to such projects. The river course is fragmented and the strength of the flow is weakened; there is a decrease in sedimentation that aggravates erosion problems; although the water becomes clearer, there is a greater concentration of impure elements; and during the course of the construction work much industrial refuse is generated, adding to the despoliation of the environment and the pollution of the river.”

The statement is one more step in Suu Kyi’s recent efforts to assert herself into a dialogue involving the country’s major issues. Recently, she wrote an open letter addressed to the government and ethnic groups calling for renewed efforts to achieve a nationwide cease-fire. In addition, she will make a tour to Bago on Sunday, her second trip outside of Rangoon since she was released from house arrest late last year. Last month, she made a personal pilgrimage to Bagan, the ancient temple site in central Burma.

Her statement also warned, “Since the commencement of the Myitsone Dam project, the perception long held by Kachin people is that successive Burmese governments have neglected their interests.” Kachin State is now the location of renewed battles between government and Kachin armed groups.

She said the lack of sound planning, the failure to enforce necessary conservation laws and poor ecological awareness “have created diverse problems.”

A total of eight dams are scheduled to be built along the Irrawaddy River, the Maykha River, and the Malikha River at Myitsone, Chibwe, Chibwenge, Khaunglanphu, Pashi, Phizaw, Laiza and Lakin. Each dam will generate between1,400 megawatts and 3,600 megawatts for a total power output of 13,360 megawatts, according to government figures.

To carry out the Myitsone Dam project, which will generate 3,600 megawatts, five embankments will be constructed on the  Maykha River and two embankments will be built on the Malikha River, according to environmentalists.

Since 2007, despite the objections of environmentalists and local residents, the project has been carried out by Asia World Company and the China Power Investment Corporation. An estimated 12,000 people from 63 villages have been relocated.

Earlier, Lama Gumhpan, a senior figure in the de facto government that administers the territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization, told Mizzima that the former junta’s reckless pursuit of dam projects was more evidence that it was willing to “ignore the concerns of Burma’s ethnic minorities.”

On March 16, the KIO sent an open letter signed by KIO chairman Lanyaw Zawng Hra to Chinese President Hu Jintao, urging China to stop the planned Myitsone Dam to be built in Kachin State and warned that the controversial project could lead to civil war. The letter said that the KIO would not be responsible if a civil war broke out because of the dam project.

On April 17, 2010, a series of at least 10 separate bombs exploded at the Myitsone Dam construction site. At least one Chinese worker was killed and some temporary buildings were damaged.

Earlier, the Burmese government told the Kachin Independence Army to withdraw its troops from a temporary military base near the Taping Dam project no later than June 11. On June 10, fighting broke out between government and Kachin troops. So far, efforts to broker a cease-fire have failed.

Regarding China, Suu Kyi said in her statement, “We believe that, keeping in mind the interests of both countries, both governments would wish to avoid consequences which might endanger lives and homes.

“We would urge that in the interests of both national and international harmony, concerned parties should reassess the scheme and cooperate to find solutions that would prevent undesirable consequences."

Addressing the ecological issue, she said: “The building of bridges without sufficient attention to the appropriateness of locations and designs has aggravated the problems of erosion and sandbank formation. For some decades now, navigation and the procurement of potable water have become increasingly difficult during the hot season.

“The proliferation of factories and the unregulated panning for gold over the last decade have introduced waste matter that constitutes a threat to rare species of fish, including the famous Irrawaddy dolphin, and to the health of people who rely on the river for water and food,” the statement said.

Suu Kyi also warned, “A particularly serious problem resulting from the weakened flow of the waters of the Irrawaddy is the intrusion of salt water into the delta. This is detrimental to paddy production and thus affects the whole population of the country for whom rice is the staple food. Moreover, rice is one of our major export items and any decrease in its production could affect foreign exchange earnings.”

The statement concluded, “Together we can find solutions to problems, ecological, economic, technical, and political, related to the Irrawaddy.”

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