Worldwide Protests Against Salween Dams in Burma

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bangkok -- On February 28, 2007, 19 cities worldwide expressed solidarity in opposing the planned Salween Dams. Protests in front of Thai embassies/consulates were held in a number of cities, including Washington DC, Sydney, New Delhi, Essen, Paris, Jakarta, Auckland, and Manila, where a petition letter was submitted demanding the current Thai administration withdraw from plans to construct dams on the Salween River.

On the same day, solidarity actions took place in Bangkok, London, Melbourne, Hanoi, and Tokyo.

"The entire decision-making process ... has been shrouded in secrecy. There has been a total absence of public participation among the dam-affected communities in Burma already suffering the atrocities of civil war or the over fifty ethnic Thai-Karen villages living along the Salween River in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province," stated the international petition letter endorsed by 232 organizations (124 Thai, 56 Burmese, and 52 additional organizations), in addition to over 1,700 individuals from around the world.

According to agreements, five major hydropower projects are planned to be installed in Burma and along the Thailand-Burma border, in collaboration between the Burmese military regime and Thailand’s state-owned Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), China’s state-owned Sinohydro Corporation, and the Thai company MDX.

Despite attempts by local Thai authorities to block their travel to Bangkok, about 30 local representatives from Mae Hong Son province conveyed their concerns at a press conference at the National Human Rights Commission office, and presented their demands to the Thai Minister of Energy. At both events they submitted their petition signed by 838 villagers calling for a halt to the dam projects until specific criteria are met, including transparency and local public participation.

"Although EGAT has come into the area to conduct surveys on a daily basis, they have yet to provide any information [to local villagers]," stated Mr. Nu Chamnankiriprai, headman of Mae Ko village on the Salween River in Mae Hong Son province.

Tuenjai Deetes, former Thai Senator, supported the villagers’ demands saying, "EGAT and the Ministry of Energy should immediately disclose information to the local people who will be directly affected by the dams and the public to make the process transparent."

Besides the action in Bangkok, those living along the Salween River held their own protests against the Salween Dams. Karen Rivers Watch (KRW), a coalition of Karen organizations, so far has collected signatures of 50,000 Karen villagers from inside Burma who oppose the Salween Dam plans.

According to KRW, Thai academics have been conducting an EIA at the proposed Hutgyi dam site, under the guard of Burma Army troops. "The Thai professors surveying at gunpoint are just getting a taste of the reality of damming in a war-zone. Building the Hutgyi dam is going to mean even more soldiers, more guns and more land-mines. Does Thailand really want to be part of this?" said Saw Karen in KRW’s statement released on the global day of action.

Teddi Buri, Member of Parliament, National League for Democracy, Burma, exiled in Australia, stated, "The development of the dams will allow for the continued genocide of the ethnic groups living along the Salween River as well as the destruction of a highly fragile and important natural habitation that provides livelihood to both Burma and Thailand."

April Moe, a Karenni human rights activist, appealed to Salween dam proponents "to reconsider their plans if they do not want to prolong the suffering [of Burmese people]." She noted that in addition to the adverse impacts on tens of thousands of Karen and Shan people, the dams would displace 30,000 Karenni people and leave many of the refugees without a home to return to.

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