Irrawaddy Dam Construction Begins, Human Rights Abuses Begin

Saw Yan Naing
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Article from The Irrawaddy Online

Burma and China began construction on one of the largest dams in Burma
some two months ago; meanwhile, villagers in the area are being
extorted and abused by the Burmese army, according to sources.

The Myitsone hydropower project is being built on the Irrawaddy
confluence about 26 miles (42 km) north of Myitkyina, the capital of
Kachin State, in northern Burma.

A source, who recently observed the dam site, told The Irrawaddy on
Monday that about 20 Chinese and a handful of Burmese engineers are
working on the site, plus about 300 construction workers from the Asia
World Company, owned by Tun Myint Naing, one of the discredited
cronies with links to the Burmese regime. The workers have built
shelters in the area by the site and are currently tasked with
detonating dynamite underneath the Irrawaddy River to break up the
rocks and create space for the dam.

The Burmese state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, reported in
May 2007 that seven hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River had
been designed to generate a combined total of 13,360 megawatts (MW) of
electricity. The report said that the largest dam, Myitsone hydropower
project, would produce some 3,600 MW.

The hydropower projects are being implemented under an agreement
signed in late 2006 with the state-owned China Power Investment
Corporation (CPI) and Burma's Ministry of Electric Power No 1.

However, while construction is underway, a series of human rights
abuses in the local areas have occurred following the arrival of Light
Infantry Battalion 121, said residents.

The source who had observed the dam site said, "The Burmese army
didn't stay in their camp. They went to Tanghpare village [some 3
miles (5 km) from the dam site] and took over a library and are
staying there. Now they do whatever they want."

"The army are extorting money form local merchants and taking
materials from shops in Tanghpare without paying," he said. "They are
also taking vegetables from the villagers' farms and walking away with
pigs and chickens."

The observer said that the Burmese army had been moved into the area
as security for the hydroelectric dam site.

He added that local villagers didn't dare to say anything because they
had been threatened by authorities and warned about making contact
with foreign or exiled media.

Naw La, coordinator of the Chiang Mai-based Kachin Environmental
Organization, on Tuesday said, "The natural heritage of the Kachin
people in Myitsone area will be destroyed. More than 40 villages near
the construction site will be flooded if the dam is built. The
reinforcement of soldiers, forced relocations, deforestation and
floods will follow hand-in-hand with its construction."

More than 10,000 villagers are currently living in those 40 villages,
said Naw La.

He added: "If they intend to build a dam, the authorities should
inform the villagers of the environmental and social impact assessment
and let them become involved in the decision making. However, the
authorities haven't contacted the villagers since the project's

Some villagers are anticipating displacement from the dam site area
and have already bought houses in Myitkyina, while others have been
forced to seek shelter in the mountains near their villages, said the
observer in Myitkyina.

An employee of the Kachin Consultative Assembly said that an earlier
letter of complaint had been sent to the government asking it not to
build a dam on the Irrawaddy confluence. The letter pointed out that
the dam would destroy the lives and property of local people, damage
natural resources and cause the loss of irreplaceable natural habitat.
However, the government has not responded to the letter, he said.

Burma is currently cooperating with China and Thailand on several
hydropower projects across the country. It expects hydropower projects
to double production of electricity in the military-ruled country by