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Investors’ Haste to Build Big Dams is Undermining Fragile Peace Process in Karen State

By Karen Rivers Watch  •  March 14, 2012

The push by investors to proceed with large dams in Karen areas of Burma is threatening to undermine ongoing ceasefire negotiations between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Burmese government.

Increased Burma Army security around dam sites and blatant disregard for concerns of impacted communities are heightening tensions, and throwing into doubt the government’s sincerity in conducting ceasefire talks.

Only two months after an initial ceasefire agreement between the KNU and the government, military tensions have risen at the planned Hatgyi dam site on the Salween River in Karen State, 48 kms from the Thai border. Unusually large amounts of supplies sent in to Burmese army camps securing the dam site, and the planned deployment of a new battalion in the area, have prompted the local KNU commander to reinforce troops around the Burmese bases since last month.

The KNU has since 2009 been calling for a halt to the Hatgyi dam project until there is viable peace in Burma, but under pressure from China’s Sinohydro Corporation and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, they agreed in December 2011 to allow further surveys for the dam. However, they had not given approval for increased Burma Army security. Ceasefire talks have yet to establish agreements regarding troop movement on both sides.

“At this fragile stage of the ceasefire process, pushing ahead with the Hatgyi dam will reignite conflict and derail the talks,” said Saw Paul of Karen Rivers Watch. “Investors are sabotaging the hopes of Karen people for lasting peace.”

Growing local resentment against dam-builders is putting increased pressure on KNU to take protective action, irrespective of ongoing ceasefire talks. In February 2012, KNU troops arrested and fined workers of the Chinese-backed “Myanmar Nature Energy Wave,” demanding they stop building the Dah Thway Kyauk dam, which will flood five Karen villages near Dawei in southern Burma.

Similar resentment is building against the Italian Thai Development Plc (ITD) for pushing ahead with the Taninthayi (Tenasserim) Dam, which will export power to Thailand, and the Ka Loat Hta Dam, which will store water for the Dawei Special Economic Zone. Local KNU units sought to block ITD’s operations in 2011, but have since been pressured to allow them to continue survey work.

“The Burmese government should show its sincerity by halting all mega-development projects in ethnic areas until there is genuine peace and political reform which guarantees the rights of impacted communities,” said Saw Paul.

Karen Rivers Watch is a coalition of community based organizations working to promote sustainable river development. 

Contact persons: Saw Paul and Day Day (081 – 200 5162) 

Download the Statement in Burmese, Karen and Thai

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This post is in: Business and Human Rights, Peace and National Reconciliation, Press Release

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