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Environmental groups called on Monday for an end to foreign investment in projects exploiting Burma’s natural resources, accusing such activities of sparking conflict in ethnic minority areas.
While foreign direct investment has “skyrocketed”, for example through large dams financed by neighbouring China, India and Thailand, there are no decent frameworks to protect Burma’s environment and communities, they said.
This investment is “concentrated in energy and extractive sectors and often results in militarization and displacement,” said a new report from the Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG), a network of activist organisations.
“Control over natural resources is a major cause of conflict in ethnic areas, where the majority of Burma’s resources remain,” the report said.
Heavy fighting between the rebel ethnic Kachin and Burma’s state army took place last month in the far north of the country around a dam financed by China, with authorities saying they acted to defend the plant from attacks.
“The renewed war in Kachin state is an example of what Burma can continue to expect as foreign direct investment increases,” said Paul Sein Twa of the BEWG.
The group’s report said an estimated 48 hydropower projects were currently being planned, constructed or already existed on Burma’s rivers.
But up to 90 percent of the power they generate is destined for other countries, “instead of supplying local populations who face serious ongoing energy shortages”.
The activists called for new and existing investment in sectors that exploit the environment to cease, until the new measures are brought in to ensure sustainable development and multi-ethnic participation.
The new government under President Thein Sein “is failing to make progress on that front,” said Paul Sein Twa.
Burma’s military junta handed power to a nominally-civilian administration earlier this year after elections in November, which the army’s political proxies won by a landslide amid allegations of cheating.
The country has been plagued by decades of civil war with armed ethnic minority militias since independence in 1948.