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Love Salween Group Condemns Blocking of Free Expression in Karenni State

By Love Salween Group  •  March 20, 2013

We, the Love Salween Group, condemn government authorities for denying local villagers their democratic rights by blocking them from organizing a prayer ceremony to mark the Global Day of Action for Rivers on March 14, 2013 at Wan Awn village, Pasaung township of Karenni state.

Even though we informed the Bawlake district authorities over a week in advance to allow us to organize the prayer ceremony, we received a letter from the authorities on March 12, 2013, denying us permission to organize the prayers. After negotiating with the authorities, we were finally not allowed even just to offer meals to monks at Wan Awn village, we finally did offer meals to monks with small group of villagers.

Thousands of villagers from Pasaung, Loikaw and the Ywathit area were blocked from attending the ceremony, which was closely monitored by the authorities. Hundreds arriving by boat along the Salween at the Wan Awn boat station were ordered to return to their villages. Indigenous Yintalai villagers were ordered to remove their traditional clothing before the prayer ceremony.

The day afterwards, on March 15, the Kayah State Chief Minister U Khin Maung Oo, on March 15, 2013 held an interview with Eleven News, saying:

“Geographic surveys on the (Ywathit) dam project which will generate 4000MW have begun. The project will be implemented only next year. Also, international experts will carry out possible environmental impacts of the dam. If they say there are hazards from the dam, we will stop the dam. If not, we will proceed.”

We strongly condemn this top-down process of development, whereby the government will rely on “international experts” (from Norway and Sweden) to dictate whether the dams will go ahead, not on the wishes of impacted communities.

U Khin Maung Oo also said that security issues of the project were the responsibility of the Ministry of Energy and the (Karenni) state ministry did not have any right to intervene in this government project: “There are things I can tell the public and things I cannot. Why security forces are heavily deployed is to guard the area from the possible threats of outside parties.”

We would like to respond to the Chief Minister that if the project is transparent and carried out in accordance with localpeople’s wishes, then the government would have no need to worry about security and no one would cause problems. If not, the same security problems will arise as with the Moe Bye dam and Lawpita hydropower station,  and now with the Lepadaung copper mining project in central Burma.

To avoid negative impacts and so as not to repeat the same problems again and again, we, the villagers of the Love Salween Group, who will be impacted by the Salween dam projects, urge the government:

  1. To stop the Ywathit dam and other dam projects on the Salween river especiallyduring this transition period of building peace and democracy in Burma, as local villagers are being denied any decision-making role in the projects.
  2. To immediately allow full freedom of expression and respect for local people’s participation in decision making on any kind of mega development projects.
  3. To carry out constitutional reform for a genuine federal union, to ensure that ethnic people have the right to own and manage their own natural resources.

Love Salween Group

Contact person
Lay New (Burmese) – Phone: +66 86 197 1526
Khu Thaw Reh (English) – Phone: +66 89 835 6128

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This post is in: Business and Human Rights, Environmental and Economic Justice, People's Voices, Press Release

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