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The Movement to Stop the Irrawaddy Myitsone Dam

By Burma Partnership  •  January 29, 2010

In the last couple of weeks, protests against the Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy river in northern Kachin state – Burma’s largest river and most important commercial waterway – have been gaining momentum. On 18 January, the Myitkyina Zonal Kachin Baptist Church, with 59 sub-divisional churches and 100,000 followers, held a 24-hour prayer service against the Myitsone dam project. The following day, ethnic Kachins in London sent a letter to the Chinese Ambassador calling for the dam project to be halted. On 28 January, Kachin residents of Singapore delivered a similar letter signed by 110 Kachins living in the city-state to the Chinese Embassy. A day of action will be held on 5 February, the 49th Kachin Revolution Day, with protests already planned around the world.

Open opposition to the project surfaced in October 2009 as dam construction began and communities started to be forcibly relocated. People in the area directly confronted leading military personnel and held mass prayers, while a community network wrote directly to the Chinese dam builders.

Since 2005, Burma’s military junta and two Chinese corporations have been preparing plans to build the 3,600 megawatt Myitsone dam on the Irrawaddy river, a project that will generate USD 500 million per year for the junta. If built, the Myitsone dam would create a reservoir the size of New York City and displace around 60 villages and more than 10,000 people. The dam will also submerge historical churches, temples, and cultural heritage sites that are central to Kachin identity and history. Read more.

A number of local civil society groups have made it clear that they do not want development banks or international financial institutions (IFIs) in Burma at this time. Engagement with the junta means providing the military regime with income that ensures their oppressive rule will continue. Under the current climate, there is also no opportunity for the people in affected communities to participate in the decision-making processes or to speak their minds truthfully in impact assessments around proposed development projects.

In a Financial Times piece this week, it was reported that the World Bank (WB) is considering providing technical assistance to Burma for the first time in 20 years. However, the WB has made it clear in a statement to the Financial Times that it has no intention of providing assistance to Burma under the current situation.

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