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Protesters rail against hydropower as sectoral workshop held in Myitkyina

Protestors hold placards outside the Palm Spring Resort hotel in Myitkyina on Tuesday. (Photo: Kachin Development Networking Group)

Activists and members of the public in Myitkyina staged a protest on Tuesday against hydroelectric dam proposals as a government-led workshop was being held in the Kachin State capital to discuss issues surrounding these often contentious developments.

Discussing arguably the most controversial of such projects, Kachin pastor Mong Ra from Waingmaw Township said reviving construction of the suspended Myitsone dam, sited at the confluence that forms the Irrawaddy River, would cause irreversible environmental damage and threaten the livelihoods of the local people.

“I want the Myitsone dam project to stop,” said Mong Ra, who joined the protest Tuesday. “I prefer conservation of the natural environment over the development project, regardless of how beneficial it will be for us. The negative consequences we are to suffer is going to be larger than the benefit and it will be irreversible.”

He said resuming the project would also likely fuel the ongoing conflict between the Burmese Army and the Kachin Independence Army ethnic armed group.

Four Kachin State-based political parties — the Kachin Democratic Party, Kachin State Democracy Party, Kachin National Congress Party and Lhaovo National Unity and Development Party — also released a joint statement suggesting that proposals for commercial development projects should not go forward until Burma has achieved a federal constitution, and peace and stability can be restored in the country’s restive north.

“A federal constitution is the key — we can only see peace when we have achieved a federal constitution with terms acceptable to all. We do agree in principle to consider development projects but it is not appropriate at this time, when we are witnessing clashes and pain and suffering of the people,” said the Kachin State Democracy Party’s secretary, Jaw Seng Naw.

“Right this moment in Myitkyina, we can hear the sound of fighter jets and under circumstances like this, we should not be considering these projects. They should wait until there is genuine peace.”

The government-led workshops this week are taking place at the Palm Spring Resort hotel in Myitkyina and the Kayah Resort Hotel in Loikaw, organised with the assistance of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. Stakeholders are being presented with country-wide research and the results of consultations held in recent months aimed at informing a Strategic Environmental Assessment for hydropower in Burma, a document intended to be used as a tool for decision-makers on the sector’s development going forward.

China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), the Myitsone dam’s Chinese developer, is believed to be a speaker at the event to lobby for resumption of the project.

Last week, two of the country’s biggest environmental advocacy networks said they too would raise their objections to the IFC workshops, the first of which was held in Rangoon on 27 January.