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State media editorial calls for Myitsone shutdown

An editorial in the Burmese-language state-run daily newspaper Kyemon has called for a permanent suspension of the controversial Chinese-backed Myitsone hydropower dam project in Kachin State.

Citing an article that appeared in Frontier Myanmar earlier this month, the Kyemon editorial published on Sunday says that none of the three options reportedly put forward by China’s state-owned CPI, the main investor in the project, was acceptable to Burma.

According to the article, written by development consultant Joern Kristensen, the three options are: to cancel the project and pay US$800 million in compensation; to resume work and earn $500 million a year in revenue when the dam is completed; or to do nothing and pay $50 million a year in interest until the project resumes.

Noting that China no longer needs the power from Burma because of a downturn in its economy, Kristensen suggests — and Kyemon endorses — a fourth option based on Burma’s own needs, which he says can be met through carefully planned hydropower projects that would be far less damaging than the Myitsone dam.

According to the Kyemon editorial, the fourth option is “assumed to be based on the report ‘Improving Hydropower Outcomes through System-Scale Planning: An Example from Myanmar’, prepared by UKAid, the Nature Conservancy, WWF and the University of Manchester.”

“System-scale planning is not about implementing dam projects on an individual basis, but is about generally looking at dam projects in the country to ensure minimal destruction to the environment and livelihood while extracting appropriate amount of energy from the dam,” the editorial continues.

“The first three options are promising for the interests of the company [CPI], but won’t lead to a good relationship between the people of the two countries,” it adds, concluding that the best option is to “completely suspend the project and look to hydropower projects mutually agreeable for the both countries.”

The Myitsone dam, approved by Burma’s former military regime, was suspended by the country’s quasi-civilian government in 2011 in the face of mass protests. Former President Thein Sein agreed to halt work on the project for as long as he remained in office, but China has stepped pressure to restart construction since the National League for Democracy assumed power earlier this year.