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Burma’s Electric Power 1 Minister Zaw Min has said the controversial Myitsone Dam project, at a major confluence of the Irrawaddy River will go ahead despite lobbying and protests from civil and environmental groups domestically and abroad.
The minister speaking to journalists in Naypyidaw on Sunday said; “Regarding this project, we will not back down just because environmental groups are against it.” President Thein Sein did however state in parliament that; “our government has focused on eco-friendly development with assessment from all aspects.”
Zaw Min however continued that; “Are the UN to investigate this? This is not the UN’s concern in anyway – this is only our country’s concern. Since we have already researched about this dam on environmental and technological aspects, we will not back down now in fact we are to go ahead. I’m saying this to make things clear with this hysteria – that we will go ahead.”
The minister said the project will resume in summer and is set to be complete within 8 years.
Regarding criticisms that the project will only profitable for China rather the Burma, the minister said the government is selling energy to China because it’s already more than enough in the country.
“We are running these projects [with China] because our country has no money. If we have money, we would do it ourselves. Even if we did have money to run these, who would use it in the country as we can’t even use up the 1500 megawatt quota in the country. So according to market theory, when we have a surplus, we have to sell it. And then buy it again when we need.”
“This is the market theory. When we can’t afford to do it ourselves, we have to invite foreign investors and we get 10 percent off it. If we produce 18000 megawatt, we’d get 1800 megawatt for free.”
This is despite a massive increase in foreign direct investment in the last year that has played havoc with Burma’s currency.
However he added that those who are condemning the Myitsone Dam project hold an intention to disrupt the ‘national interest';
“While we are trying various methods to gain electricity, remarks by those with undesirable intentions to disrupt the projects would only harm our national interest. Do we just listen to some individuals and groups focusing on their own profit, or look for the interest of 50-60 million people in our country?”
Regarding criticism that the project will deal a great damage to the environment, the minister said the government had hired an audit called BANCA which include Chinese experts, paying almost US$ 1.5 million, to study the dam’s impacts before starting the project.
Ah Nan, coordinator of Kachin Development Networking Group said that BANCA had actually advised the government to not go ahead with the project although the minister did not include this in his remarks.
She said the dam project had led to armed conflicts and deforestation by the Chinese company in the region;
“People are being forcibly relocated and with the minister saying there is no negative impact from the dam, we can see that [the government] is ignoring the situation when local population in Kachin state are suffering the project’s consqeuences.”
She said local population are also being subjected to forced labouring and forced relocation due to the project however she said that locals would not enjoy the electricity output from the dam.
About 20,000 people have been internally displaced due to the conflict between the Burmese Army and the Kachin armed group the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that KDNG linked to the dam in a report released on 30 August. It also highlighted human rights violations in the conflict in the region such as the rape of women.
Ninety percent of the electricity output from Myitsone Dam, when it is completed, will be sold to China and the Burmese government are estimated to gain US$500 million per a year from the project.
The Myitsone Dam project is being built by Chinese-owned Sinohydro Corporation and influential figures including Aung San Suu Kyi along with environmentalists, popular cultural figures and the media have been speaking out against it.