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Shan activists call on Suu Kyi to halt Salween dams

Shan activists say that building a series of hydropower dams along the Salween River in eastern Burma would devastate local ethnic communities. (Photo: DVB)

Nearly 30 Shan civil society organisations (CSOs) sent an open letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday urging her to suspend six dam projects along the Salween River.

Nang Nwan Mo of the Namtkhon Social Assistance Organisation said the dams along the river will likely do more harm than good to local communities along the river.

“We, the local ethnic populations, will be the one who suffer the negative consequences of these dams, and it is not likely we will get to enjoy the benefits. These dams will destroy our environment and our farmlands will be flooded,” the Shan activist said.

She said that despite repeated calls by CSOs to halt the projects, the government and companies that have signed deals with the previous government to build the hydropower dams are going ahead with construction.

In the open letter, the activists stressed how vital the Salween River is for the livelihoods of millions of ethnic people in eastern Burma, and how damaging it would be to disrupt the river’s strong current.

Moreover, the letter said the projects are likely to fuel more conflict in the region, where a number of ethnic armed groups have long engaged in hostilities with the Burmese army, as more government troops are deployed to provide security.

Nang Nwan Mo said she hoped that Suu Kyi would listen to the CSOs’ call.

“[Suu Kyi] promised equal rights between all ethnic groups and the people of Burma, so we hope that she will keep her word. Everything is in her hands — she is the leader of the country, her party is leading the country, so everything is up to her,” she said.

“If she really empathises with us, she will find a way around to work this out.”

The Burmese government has announced six dam projects along the Salween River — four in Shan state, and one each in Karenni and Karen states. Almost all of the electricity generated by the dams will be sold to China and Thailand.