An environmental coalition of civil society groups group has issued a statement claiming that recent armed conflict in Karen State is linked to the Burma government’s plans to dam the Salween River.
Salween Watch said it was “gravely concerned at the recent escalation of fighting and displacement in Karen state, Burma/Myanmar, which is linked to plans by the Burma Army to clear the way for the planned Hut Gyi Dam on the Salween.”
In recent days fighting close to the proposed dam site saw hundreds of civilians take refugee Thailand as fighting between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and Burma Army.
The Salween Watch coalition has been monitoring dams planned to be built on the Salween River for over a decade.
The Salween Watch said the area of the conflict was “opposite Thasong Yang District, Tak Province, near the location of the Hut Gyi Dam. On October 11, 260 Karen villagers fled to the Thai border, but were pushed back to the Burmese side of the border by Thai authorities.”
Salween Watch said in its statement that the Burma Army was reinforcing its frontline soldiers and positions and that it had warned local armed groups that the DKBA days were numbered.
“DKBA and Karen National Union (KNU) sources say that the Burma Army has warned the DKBA that they will be “wiped out” from the Hut Gyi dam area, and nine trucks of Burmese troops have been sent into the area since October 8. The DKBA is known to be opposed to the Hut Gyi Dam.”
Salween Watch said that development projects including dams should be put on hold until Burma has a secure and genuine peace.
“Hut Gyi Dam is one of five hydropower projects proposed on the Salween River in Burma, all of which are situated in ethnic areas that have been suffering from decades of civil war. There has been strong opposition to the projects by local communities, who are urging that the projects be halted immediately, and only reconsidered when there is genuine peace and democracy in Burma.”
Salween Watch said the latest conflict in Karen State was proof that development was driving the fighting.
“We condemns this recent escalation of conflict by the Burma Army, which is further evidence that building dams in war zones only exacerbates conflict and militarization. Especially during this time of nationwide ceasefire negotiations in Burma, we demand that the Burmese government immediately ends this military offensive and pulls back its troops from the area.”
Salween Watch pushed the Thai government to stop its involvement in the proposed dam.
“We also urge the Thai government to order the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to withdraw its involvement in the Hut Gyi Dam, which is not only impacting communities inside Burma, but is also having trans-boundary impacts.”