Hundreds protest dam on Namtu River

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More than 1,500 people staged a protest on Sunday in northern Shan State’s Hsipaw Township, demanding a halt to plans for a hydropower dam project.

Photo by SHRF- people stage a protest near Namtu River in Hsipaw Township on November 27.
Photo by SHRF- people stage a protest near Namtu River in Hsipaw Township on November 27.

Protestors included community activists, members of youth groups, women and politicians, many of whom came from all corners of Shan State to gather at Ta Long village, where the Upper Yeywa Dam project is slated to be built.

According to Sai Thum Ai, a spokesperson for the Shan State Farmers’ Network (SSFN), the new hydropower projects – the Upper Yeywa being one of four proposed to be constructed in northern Shan State – will offer no benefits to the public, but will only create problems.

“The companies plan to finish building the Upper Yeywa Dam by 2018,” he said. “By that time, Ta Long village will be under water.”

The proposed dam will create a 60-kilometer-long reservoir and flood up to the town of Hsipaw, submerging villages and lands. About 650 villagers live in Ta Long, an agricultural community renowned for its organic oranges, according to the statement released on November 27.

The dam is due to be built by: China’s Zhejiang Orient Engineering Co: the Yunnan Machinery Import and Export Co; Lahmeyer International GmbH of Germany; Swiss company Stucky SA; and a Japanese conglomerate called Toshiba Hydro Power (Hangzhou) Co Ltd.

“The dam site and planned reservoir lie in an area of active conflict, where the Burma Army has been launching offensives in the past few months against ethnic resistance forces and committing grave human rights violations, including the torture and killing of civilians,” reads the statement. “On October 23, over 2,000 villagers fled from their homes after a Burma Army attack only 20 kilometers east of Ta Long. The recent escalation of fighting in northern Shan State during the past week has caused more IDPs to flee to Namtu.”

On June 3, Shan Herald reported that Burmese armed forces tortured and killed villagers near the Yeywa dam site.

Environmentalist Sai Thum Ai said that after the 2010 election, investment increased in Shan State, but more people are struggling. Many civilians’ lands have been confiscated, he said, while conflict is breaking out all across Shan State.

“They [the NLD government] did not solve our problems. On the other hand, they have created more problems for people. If they build more dams, more people will suffer,” he said.

“We urge the Shan State government and Union government to stop creating new [dam] projects. The current projects should provide equality benefits for local people,” he said. “We also urge the government to bring about an immediate end to the fighting in northern Shan State.”

The SSFN also urged foreign firms involved in the Upper Yeywa Dam to pull out immediately from this controversial project, saying they are complicit in the Burmese army’s abusive military operations to secure the area. In particular, the farmers group said, Stucky SA should withdraw, given Switzerland’s proclaimed role as a “peace-builder” in Burma.

By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

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