Burmese President Halts Myitsone Dam Project
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Burmese President Halts Myitsone Dam Project

By BA KAUNG Friday, September 30, 2011

Construction of Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State. (Photo: Irrawaddy)

Burmese President Thein Sein has called for a suspension of work on the controversial Myitsone dam project, in response to a mounting public outcry over the project, which critics say threatens the source of the Irrawaddy River.

Thein Sein said in a letter to Parliament on Friday that construction of the 6,000-megawatt hydropower dam in Kachin State should be suspended because the project is against the will of the people and lawmakers.

Map of Irrawaddy Dams (Photo: Burma Rivers Network)
In the letter, the president explained that the project has caused much public concern since it can destroy the natural landscape of the Myitsone area and have an adverse effect on the livelihood of the people living downstream of the dam on the Irrawaddy River.

“Our government, being elected by the people, has to take great consideration of public opinion. Accordingly, we have an obligation to respond to the public concern with seriousness. Therefore, we will suspend the Myitsone project during the term of our government,” he said in the letter.

The US $3.6 billion project has drawn widespread condemnation from environmental groups and the Burmese public, as concerns about the potentially disastrous impact of the dam on local communities and the Irrawaddy, Burma's largest river, continue to grow.

Under an agreement signed in 2006 between the Chinese and Burmese governments, China's state-owned China Power Investment (CPI) corporation, in a joint venture with the Burmese Ministry of Electric Power No. 1 and Asia World, a Burmese-owned conglomerate, began construction work on the project last year.

Ninety percent of the electricity generated by the massive project, which has already displaced around 12,000 people, will be exported to China.

It remains unclear what kind of negotiations Thein Sein made with the Chinese government before the announcement was made, but he said in the letter that his government will continue to negotiate and carry out other agreements related to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Myitsone project without hampering friendly relations with the Chinese government.

News of the decision was greeted by opponents of the dam as a welcome development.

“We welcome the president's decision, which reflects what he promised in his inaugural speech—that he will listen to the voice of the people,” said Myat Thu, a democracy activist in Rangoon who has been organizing a nationwide signature campaign calling for the scrapping of the project.

The Myitsone dam, located near the confluence of the Malikha and Maykha rivers at the source of the Irrawaddy, is part of a seven-dam cascade that represents a $20 billion investment by China, according to the International Rivers Network, an independent environmental group.

The dam's reservoir will submerge important historical and cultural sites and inundate approximately 766 square kilometers of forested area, according to the group, which also said that it will cause irreversible damage to Burma's key river system as well as to downstream rice paddy communities.

Burma Rivers Network, an environmental group, called for continued pressure on the Burmese government and CPI to immediately cancel the six other dams planned on the Irrawaddy source rivers, which will have the same devastating impacts on the country.

“Until the Chinese project holders publicly declare their cancellation of the Myitsone dam and pull out from the dam-site, we must assume the project is going ahead,” said Ah Nan, assistant coordinator of the group in a statement released on Friday.

The project has also exacerbated ethnic tensions in Burma's restive north. The ethnic Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has vowed to resist the project in any form since early this year, when it warned the Chinese government that the project could spark a civil war and should be canceled.

The warning was followed by deadly armed clashes between the KIA and Burmese government troops near two China-run hydropower plants in Kachin State's Bhamo Township.

La Nan, a spokesman for the KIA, described the president's move as a result of intense public pressure, but declined to declare it a victory.

“We will wait and see, since it remains uncertain whether the project will be completely canceled or not,” he said.

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Thidar Aye Wrote:
Recently, you saw the dim yellow light from Thein Sein but you need to wait the actual green signal from Than Shwe.

It depends on how much money he took as a bribe from CPI Corp.(China) for US$3.6 billion project. More or less bribed money will make him a decision for our country's future.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Thein Sein 1, Zaw Min/Shit Lone nil. Round 1.

A very good day for the Burmese nation. We've won a battle, not the war.

My hunch is dissent within their own ranks, and not necessarily popular unrest, over the dam that forced their hand in deciding to defuse the rapidly deteriorating situation. We must capitalize on any split inside the ruling party. Drive a wedge through to isolate the completely selfish and ruthless members of the govt and Tatmadaw.

Solidarity gets results, particularly when it's no longer PC for a 'democracy' to quash without thinking twice any dissent as in the past.

People Power can move farther and grow stronger during this window of opportunity however short-lived it may prove to be. Time to build up networks and resources. Get the army on side for more decisive future battles. Let's level the playing field.

Oo Maung gyi Wrote:
All Chinese projects should be passed by parliament otherwise it is illegal,because military junta's time these projects were signed so it should legalize now once the country has parliament. All Foreign investment projects are required to endorse by parliament under democratic system so that peoples get chance to make constructive voices.

Prozac Wrote:
Notice that Thein Sein did not totally scrap the dam' dam. He only "suspended" it during the term of his government. He is only temporarily holding up the dam to defuse the people's anger and prevent them from uniting with the KIA. A very smart move. Surrender the battle for now, and win the war later.
Do not be fooled. This is only khway ga lay pyaw aung lay lair pya dar ( letting out some wind to satisfy the little dog) (for those not familiar to this saying, dogs
expectant stray dogs waiting t they drop. When the toilet user lets out a fart, the waiting dogs get really happy and they think they are about to have a feast.
This vulgar saying is used whenever someone is using a trick to satisfy someone else. In this case, Thein Sein is only breaking wind to satisfy the public.

Dave Wrote:
I have a dream!
President Thein Sein played his card right with Than shwe to gain power, then turn's his backs on him, locks him up, and hands power to Daw Suu.
He would be regarded as a Burmese hero like General Aung san if he did this.
Wishful thinking maybe, but it would be a great day in human history if this happened

isabel Bernard Wrote:
Please stop the destruction! A Dam will destroy natural habitat, it will wipe out culture and kill wild life and your culture will be effected.

tony sure Wrote:
Congrats for working towards a better govt and a better future. At the same time, credit to Soe Thane (Minister Ind 1,2) for publicly raising up the concerns at the forum (sep 19 news by Wai Moe). Good Job!

hyper Wrote:
Thanks you, Mr President. It is a great job you have ever done. We appreciated what you have listened and understood people will & desire. Long live Irrawaddy & U Thein Sein.

Ma Innthu Wrote:
This is really great news. Thank you President for consideration to people of Burma. Hope we will have more good news for prisoners now!

Myanmartha Wrote:
This is the best and wisest decision any Myanmar military government has ever made. I hope U Thein Sein and his government will bring our country out of the darkness. Keep up the good work. The time to move forward is long overdue!

Grateful Wrote:
Thank you U Thein Sein for this extraordinary action. Through this you have shown your true goodwill. We also hope that you will make sure the Chinese or anyone else will never touch our mighty river. Disfiguring and destroying this life giving river is the same as destroying the country and hurting the people. Please work with DASSK and the people. Show your sincere goodwill followed by good decisions. It is a guarantee for a good life in this as well as next life. God bless you.

U Aung Koe Wrote:
Irrawaddy River is national interest, not ruler's interest. Stop all dams projects in Kachin State and across the nations for ever not only his term. Welcome U Thein Sein letter but should be unconditional.

Venus Wrote:
At least yellow light seems positive from UTS's side.

tocharian Wrote:
Very good news, but I still hope they will not only suspend but really scrap all these Chinese dam and pipeline mega-projects that are environmentally harmful to Burma and benefit only the greedy Chinese masters.

Old Guard Wrote:
I welcome President Thein Sein and his government's decision to suspend the Myitsone Dam Project for the sake of people's desire.
I do not care about the scenery or the Burmese Empire of the past. But I do care about the country and its people being treated like STUPID PEOPLE - exploiting
our natural resources VERY cheaply.
We deserve a fare share of benefit in all these development projects - e.g for domestic & industrial use of energy output; Proper resettlement & livelihood of the displaced people etc.; NOT just cheap compensation money. The new govt. should review these issues in all development projects going on in Myanmar.
Do those GREEDY generals who agreed to these project ever think of themselves being taken like IDIOTS by the foreign investors? Do you all know that it is concerned with NATIONAL PRESTIGE?

KKL Wrote:
I agreed with Oo maung Gyi.Thank you so much for your decision (to President)and Now, we are hoping for another decisions. We are so appreciated on your decision.

Burma man Wrote:
I am glad and see the good move of President U Thein Sein. We need this kind of Leader who could really listen and lead for the country.

Oo Maung gyi Wrote:
President Thein Sein made a historical decision and it is great. It should totally srcap the project for the sake of the county and ppeoples. Irrawaddy is our mother river and the first Burmese Empire was established at the Irrawaddy river bank called Bagan by Anawrathar, the great warriors.

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