Monday, October 17, 2011

Kachin NGO questions Myitsone Dam suspension

Monday, 17 October 2011 19:54 Thea Forbes

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – There is “no evidence on the ground that the [Myitsone] dam project has indeed been suspended,” the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) said in a statement released on Friday.

“Despite the announcement from Burma’s president, there has been no confirmation from the project manager, China Power Investment Corporation (CPI),” said the press statement.

Hka Ka Bo Mining Co. Ltd. and the government’s No (2) Mining Ministry have a joint venture to mine for gold. Photo: KDNG

The KDNG said that until the CPI confirms the announcement of the suspension of the Myitsone Dam project and six other planned hydropower projects, the projects could “go ahead at any time.”

They statement followed President Thein Sein’s announcement of the suspension of construction on the Myitsone Dam Project at the confluence of the Irrawaddy, River. Villagers, who have been removed from the area, are still “living in a state of uncertainty and fear,” the statement said.

According to the KDNG, villagers who have been forced to move from the construction areas and are living in relocation camps have reported that they have seen workers continuing to operate at the site. There are two relocation camps where about 1,000 people are situated, Ah Nan, a KDNG spokesperson, told Mizzima.

On other environmental issues, destructive mining activities still continue in the area, the KDNG reported. “Gold mining and logging that are also destroying the Myitsone and the Irrawaddy rivers are actively going on at the Myitsone and upstream of Myitsone. If the dams are really stopped, all these destructive activities should stop immediately,” a villager at the dam site told KDNG.

Land confiscation and forced eviction for construction projects is rife in Burma. Ah Nan told Mizzima on Monday that KDNG had obtained a letter written on October 5 that had been sent to villagers living around the gold mining site, ordering them to vacate the area by October 10.

The letter, sent by Nyein Tun Kyaw, a government official in Myitkyina Township, that all persons except personnel from the Hka Ka Bo Mining Co. Ltd in Tan Pha Ye village had to leave. It said that any mining performed by persons other than from the Hka Ka Bo company was illegal, and “violators will be punished in accordance with existing laws." The KDNG said that traditional gold mining has taken place in the area for years.

After the dam plans were announced, mining and logging concessions were granted in order to clear out the dam site. Large-scale gold mining at the site began in 2010, leaving toxic mercury and cyanide that are used in the mining process to be dumped without regulation into the rivers, the KDNG said. An Nan told Mizzima that the Hka Ka Bo Mining Company Limited and the government’s mining ministry no.2 had been given joint venture rights to mine concessions at the dam site.

On September 30, in response to President Thein Sein’s announcement of a moratorium on construction, the activist group Burma Rivers Network said, “Until the Chinese project holders publicly declare their cancellation of the Myitsone Dam and pull out from the dam site, we must assume the project is going ahead.”

The KDNG report released on Friday features photographs taken since the announcement of work continuing in progress on the Myitsone Dam project. One photo taken on Friday, shows Chinese workers downstream from the dam site taking land surveys between Lahpye and Tawngban villages. They have also documented active construction using heavy machinery since September 30.

Most Chinese workers had already left the site before September 30, but this did not reflect a genuine halt on construction, but was “most likely due to the rainy season conditions.” A promotional video produced by Sinohydro (a Chinese state-owned hydroelectric power and construction company hired by CPI to build the dam) stated that workers around the dam site could only work for seven months in a year.

“The CPI staff told us they would work with the Burmese government and not to worry for our jobs. He told us, please wait at the project site; after rainy season, we will continue the project, so don’t take back the trucks and equipment,” an Asia World employee told KDNG.

Chinese workers, on the right, conduct land surveys between Lahpye and Tawngban villages on October 11, 2011. This photo is taken looking upstream. The Irrawaddy-Myitsone bridge and a containment wall can be seen in the distance. Construction Site No.7 is directly across the road to the right. Photo: KDNG

Asia World is a Burmese conglomerate that partnered with Burma’s state power utility Myanma Electric Power Enterprise (MEPE) and Chinese state-owned electrical company China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) on the dam project.

Thein Sein’s move to suspend the project until 2016 shocked China. CPI chairman Lu Qizhou calling the move “bewildering.” Lu Qizhou told Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, on October 3, “In February this year, Burma’s prime minister urged us to accelerate the construction when he inspected the project site, so the sudden proposal of suspension now is very bewildering. If suspension means a construction halt, then it will lead to a series of legal issues.”

He also remarked that, “I am totally astonished to hear the news of suspending this project. Under the announcement of halting this project, we must stop all of our construction work there.”

Rebounding from the decision to suspend the project, Naypyidaw then moved to presumably secure ties and quell China’s concerns, by sending Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin to visit Beijing on October 10. It was reported that he went to discuss Naypyidaw’s decision to suspend the project and come to an agreeable arrangement for both parties. According to Xinhua, Wunna Maung Lwin met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Chinese Foreign Minister Yan Jiechi during his visit, and “pledged to work towards mutual benefit of the two countries.”

AFP quoted the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weiman, who said the meeting had been arranged “to handle this project in the proper way and continue to move forward with bilateral relations, which are very important to us.”

It was reported that Naypyidaw would compensate China for the halt of the Myitsone project. In an interview with the Irrawaddy, presidential advisor Dr Nay Zin Latt told the news group that Burma might have to compensate China in the form of granting economic concessions. “I don't think we have to pay them back in the form of billions of dollars…Using revenues from other sources, not only from Myitsone, we can repay the loan. For example, we can pay back using revenues from the gas pipeline to China.”

The sale of gas from the Shwe gas pipeline project is set to be operational in 2013, and is estimated to earn Naypyidaw US$ 29 billion in revenues over the next 30 years.

In the Friday statement, KDNG reported that construction on the main dam has not yet begun, but that several diversion tunnels and containment walls surrounding the sites have been completed. A supply road, railway, and a 600 metre long suspension bridge south of the dam site that will link the project supply headquarters in Tengchong, China, to the construction site, are nearly completed.

KDNG and other environmental and campaign groups have been urging the cancellation of all seven hydropower dams planned by China.

“All of these dams will export electricity to China and will have the same negative impacts as the Myitsone dam. Building these mega dams will cause irreparable environmental destruction, unpredictable water surges and shortages, and inflict social and economic damage to the millions who depend on the Irrawaddy. Thousands of Kachin villagers will also be forced to relocate,” said the KDNG statement.

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