Thailand renews plans to build controversial Myanmar dam

Trend Capital News Agency
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thailand has decided to proceed with the construction of a hydropower dam in north-east Myanmar despite from environmentalists, media reports said Sunday. ( dpa )

Thai Foreign Minister Noppodon Pattama confirmed Saturday that Thailand will push ahead with the 228-metre-high Tasang dam on the Salween River which has made little progress since the country won a concession to construct the massive project 10 years ago, the Bangkok Post reported Sunday.

Noppodon visited Myanmar on Friday as a member of an official Thai delegation led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to strengthen economic ties between the two neighbouring countries.

The 7,110-megawatt Tasang dam, which will be one of the largest in south-east Asia, will create a reservoir flooding hundreds of square kilometres in the Shan State of north-east Myanmar, has been widely criticized for lack of a proper environmental and social impact study. Thousands of families will be displaced by the dam.

The site on the Salween River has long been a conflict zone for Myanmar's military regime, which is fighting ethnic Shan and Karen rebellions in the area.

The Thai firm MDX signed an agreement to develop the project in 2002, intending to export the generated electricity to Thailand.

There are more than seven dams planned on the Salween River, all of which were put on hold after the September 19, 2006, coup that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who actively pursued business deals with Myanmar's pariah regime during his dual premierships between 2001 to 2006.

The current Thai government is led by the pro-Thaksin People Power Party which won the most seats in the December 23 general election and has reintroduced many of Thaksin's previous policies.

Thailand currently ranks as Myanmar's third-largest foreign investor, with investments reaching 1.34 billion dollars as of last year. Britain ranks first with 1.56 billion dollars worth of investments in Myanmar, followed by Singapore with 1.43 billion dollars, according to figures compiled by Thailand's Foreign Trade Department.

Thailand also ranks among Myanmar's leading trade partners.

In 2007, Thai imports from Myanmar, primarily natural gas, amounted to 80.03 billion baht (2.5 billion dollars), up 9.8 per cent on 2006 figures. Thai exports to the country totalled 33.06 billion baht (1.05 billion dollars) a 14.6 per cent increase.

Thailand's close economic ties with the regime are in stark contrast to those of most Western democracies, such as the US and the European Union, both of which have imposed new economic sanctions on the country in the wake of its brutal crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks last September.

Such sanctions are deemed ineffective as long as Myanmar's main economic allies Thailand, India and China, refuse to follow suit.