In an effort to create more understanding on the proposed hydro-power dam on Baw Ka Hta River in Kyaukyi Township, the Karen National Union held a consultation meeting with community organizations on May 6 in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.
The Baw Ka Hta hydro-power dam project, located in the KNU’s Nyaunglebin (Kler Lwee Htu) district in Easter Pegu Division came under criticism after news report that a MoU was signed between Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo, the head of the KNU’s affiliated company, Thoolei Co. Ltd and the director general of the government’s electric power department, U Aye San without public consultation.
The KNU issued a statement in an attempt to clarify that the MoU was not for the construction, but only for a preliminary report on a feasibility study and reassured the Karen community that the process would “not ignore the opinions of the local communities and the [KNU] would not engage in activities that might lead to human rights violations.”
In the latest consultation meeting in Mae Sot, Pado Saw Ta Doh Moo, the head of Thoo Lei Company and the, chairman of the KNU’s Economic Committee told Karen News that he believes opposition to the proposed hydro-power dam is due to the lack of information that the local community has received about the project.
Padoh Ta Doh Moo said; “The locals oppose the project. They have been worried about it because they don’t know all about it. They have their right to be worried. We will have to explain, in order for them to understand it – we have plans to meet them.”
To explain about the project to the locals, a team from the Norwegian Water Resource and Energy Directorate and Norwegian Consultancy Company-Norconsult (NVE,NC) that is helping with the Baw Ka Hta hydro-power project planned to meet with Kyaukgyi Development Watch, a local watchdog committee and local people on 9 May, 2016.
Naw Tabithan, in charge of the KDW who attended the meeting in Mae Sot told Karen News that the final decision on the dam should be the local communities.
“Although I come here as representative of the local people, I can’t make a final decision alone. I said at the meeting that this project could be implemented only if it is decided by the local people. Therefore, we will meet with the [Norwegian] ‘experts’ and if it’s agreed by the people, a study can be carried out in the project area.”
Naw Tabithan said that villagers are strongly opposing the proposed dam as “they worry that they will lose their ancestral lands that they have depended on for many generations. They don’t want to lose these lands as future generation to come will be deprived.”
A total of 37 people attended the consultation meeting including 14 representatives from community-based-organizations from both inside Burma and along the border, scholars from (NVE-NC), Padoh Ta Doh Moo, chairman of the KNU’s Economic Committee and observers.
A statement put out by the KNU’s Economic Committee after the meeting said. “It is important to note that no decision has been made to build a dam. At this time, the KNU is only interested in discussing with the Karen people and concerned [community] organisations about how to proceed with this project.”
The KNU statement also said that “if we reach an agreement with the local community, the KNU will undertake environmental and social assessments with international experts, supported by the Government of Norway and in full consultation with local communities and concerned organisations.”
The KNU statement concluded that “the KNU wishes to be transparent and engage with the local community, concerned organisations, and the media, to explain and seek further participation in this process.”
This meeting is the latest in a series held by the KNU and Thoo Lei Company with local and community-based-organization after a MoU for preliminary study of Baw Ka Hta hydro-power project was signed on February 18, 2016.