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Mong Ton dam plans endanger peace, say activists

Ethnic armed groups are active along parts of the Salween River, which runs through an area of ongoing conflict. (Photo: International Rivers)

A coalition of community groups and people living along the Salween River in Burma is demanding that the Thai and Burmese governments suspend the proposed Mong Ton dam, amid reports that the energy ministers of the two countries were due to meet today to negotiate a power-purchasing agreement for the project.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Network of People in the Salween Basin called on the two countries to suspend the hydropower project, citing a lack of consultation with ethnic minority people living in the affected area and concerns about its possible impact on peace-building efforts in Burma.

“If Thailand and Burma proceed with this dam in central Shan State, it will impact on human rights violations because of refugee issues and environmental impacts,” said Pianporn Deetes, the Thailand director of  International Rivers, a US-based watchdog group that monitors dam-construction projects worldwide.

“This is not the time for any decision [on the dam] because the project site in Shan State is still a war zone and lots of refugees have fled the area,” she told DVB on Friday.

The statement also drew attention to ongoing peace talks in Burma, noting that the process “remains fragile and could be disrupted if Thailand concludes a deal with the government of Burma, including contracts for large-scale investment projects such as the Mong Ton dam.”

The proposed hydropower project is located in the reaches of the Salween River between the towns of Mong Ton and Mong Pan, 310 km east of the Shan State capital Taunggyi.

The dam site is about 19 km upstream from the village of Wan Has La. If completed, the project is expected to affect around 300,000 people, many of whom were forcibly relocated to the Thai-Burmese border in 1996 under Burma’s previous military government.

“Construction of the dam in the area would permanently inundate the lands of this displaced population, leaving many landless and stateless,” according to the statement, which also noted that the Salween is one of the last free-flowing trans-boundary rivers in the region.

The statement also highlighted a Thai cabinet resolution issued on 16 May that said “the state should ensure that the private sector is responsible to society and respects human rights during the course of their investments in Thailand and the investments of Thai investors in other countries.”

The Mong Ton project is jointly developed by a consortium led by the China Three Gorges Corporation. It also includes China’s Sinohydro and China Southern Grid; EGATi, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand; and IGE, one of Burma’s largest conglomerates.

The original plan calls for the creation of a 7,000-megawatt mega-dam, but there have been reports that the project could be divided into two dams, one with 3,500-MW generating capacity, and another of 2,500 MW.

The first public environmental and social impact assessment scoping meeting on the project was held on 10 March with 179 participants, including some community members, but community groups say their concerns have not been acted upon.