Karen Groups Concerned Proposed Dams on Salween River Could Fuel Conflict and Increase Militarization

The Karen River Watch, a coalition of Karen environmental community based groups raise concerns over the proposed hydropower dam projects on the Salween River and repeated their call for a halt to all development projects.

Together with local villagers, KRW held a protest near Hat Gyi Dam, one of the proposed dam sites in Hlaingbwe Township, Karen State on March 14 to mark International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams.

In a statement issued by the KRW on the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams, KRW outlined several issues if the proposed dam projects are to be implemented.

The KRW said in it statement that it is concerned that the proposed projects will “underme the peace process and increase conflict as the Burma Army breaks its ceasefire to control planned dam sites.”

KRW said the lack “a consultation with local populations and no provision of relevant information” was worrying local people. KRW pointed out that decades of displacement and seizure of [village] land without [paying] compensation, the destruction of the local environment and militarization by the Burma Army and its militias to occupy areas near dam sites would lead to increased human rights violations.”

The KRW statement also noted that the benefits of these developments would not be for local villagers, but for governments and investors.

The KRW statement said that, “energy generated [will be] to supply neighboring countries and industries rather than local populations, the revenue from the dams going to the central government, which spends more on its military than in any other area, rather than benefiting local people and [it] increased risk of rape and sexual violence in areas where the Burma Army provides security for the dam sites.”

Saw Tha Phoe, a spokesperson for the Karen River Watch spoke to Karen News about the concerns.

“There is the increase in militarization in the area of the proposed Hat Gyi Dam site by government troops consolidating its control in the area. On one hand, they [government] say they are building peace, but on the other hand, they are planning to build dams that local villagers see as not beneficial to them. This will be an obstacle for trust building and will undermine the peace process.”

The KRW said that the protest at the dam site saw as many as 500 people including local villagers.

Saw Than Ye, a local villager from the area who took part at the protest told Karen News.

“The Salween River is our means of living for villagers here. If the dams are built, it is the same as killing us. We don’t have any other means of livelihood. We depend on these mountains and rivers. I will oppose these dam projects as long as I live.”

The Burma government planned to implement six dam projects on the Salween River – Shan, Karenni and Karen State. The projects include Kwan Lon, Nong Pa, Man Taung and Tasang in Shan State, Ywathit dam in Karenni State and Hatgyi dam in Karen State.

Chinese, Thai and Burmese companies such as the International Group of Entrepreneurs Co. Ltd, Shwe Taung and Asia World are investing in the projects.

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