Villagers and environmental activists in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state marked the two-year anniversary of the suspension of a Chinese-backed hydropower dam on Monday with calls to scrap the project completely amid fresh interest from investors.
Villagers relocated from the Myitsone dam site and local religious leaders gathered at the Thida Christian Hall in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina to commemorate the Sept. 30, 2011 announcement by President Thein Sein that the U.S. $3.6 billion project on the Irrawaddy River would be halted for the duration of his five-year term.
The project, which was slated to provide most of its electricity to China, had provoked massive public outcry over the widespread flooding and deforestation the dam would cause, as well as the displacement of 10,000 ethnic Kachin villagers.
Investor Chinese Power Investment Corporation (CPI) has said it is interested in restarting the project, raising concerns among residents that the 6,000-megawatt dam could be restarted following the country’s next general elections in 2015.
Local residents said they want to see the project scrapped and CPI offices in the country closed permanently.
“I would like to tell the Chinese company, ‘Please give up your expectations and don’t imagine anything will happen here if the people don’t want it,” local Christian pastor Naw Din said at the anniversary celebration.
“The Myanmar government shouldn’t let them stay in the country,” he said.
More than 300 households from Tanphye, Padan and Myitsone villages were relocated for the project, and villagers have not been allowed to return during the suspension.
Relocated residents have complained that compensation they’ve received is too low and the land they have been allocated is not suitable for planting crops and rearing livestock, hurting their livelihoods.
“We villagers kicked out from the project area are suffering from the negative impact of the project,” said Kar Kyone, a villager originally from Tanphye.
“We were given some land to work, but we can’t plant any crops on this rocky land,” she said.
“There is no pasture for our animals such as cows and buffalo.”
Interest in restarting
Officials from CPI, which is collaborating with Myanmar conglomerate Asia World and the country’s Ministry of Electric Power on the project, told Myanmar opposition lawmakers visiting China earlier this year that they hope the project can be restarted.
China’s ambassador to Myanmar Yang Houlan has also raised the idea, saying the project could help support the development of industry in Myanmar.
The decision to suspend the dam was seen as a strong signal of reform on the part of Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government that had taken power just months earlier as Myanmar began emerging from decades under military rule.
Environmentalists in Yangon marking the anniversary in an event at the offices of green group Seinlan Amimyay urged the government to scrutinize carefully any proposals to restart the project and take national public opinion into account.
“If the new government which takes over power in 2015 wants to resume the project, it should have the people vote on it in a referendum,” Seinlan Amimyay chairman Win Myo Thu.
“Even if the new government wants to resume the project, it has to take surveys and explore many things on this issue, which should take at least three or four years,” he said.
“People will show their wishes and protest against a project that they don’t want to have in their country,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.