By Hanna Hindstrom
A leaked government document has confirmed that the controversial Myitsone dam project in Kachin state is set to reopen just six months after Thein Sein pledged to halt operations during his presidency.
In a letter dated 28 March 2012, local authorities request the importation of materials to restart the US3.6 billion dollar project, which has drawn widespread condemnation from environmental and community groups.
“As CPI [China Power Investment Corporation] is planning to restart the Myitsone Hydropower Project, we request that you grant temporary ID card (Yellow Card) for responsible person and 500 road construction engineers to enter Myanmar, and to allow the import of necessary materials,” said the letter.
The request includes: “1,000 tons of diesel, 200 tons or petrol, 10,000 tons of cement, 5 bulldozers, 6 excavators, 8 trucks, and 20 cars, as well as other necessary materials and goods (for rations) to enter at the Kan Pai Ti gate without tax.”
President Thein Sein suspended the project in September last year in the face of growing public opposition against the Chinese-backed project, in a move that has been welcomed by critics and cited as evidence of his “reformist” agenda.
A spokesperson for the Burma Rivers Network (BRN) told DVB that construction never stopped. Since Thein Sein’s announcement, workers have continued to arrive at the dam site and the Burmese army, according to BRN, has forcibly evicted villagers. Others have been refused the right to return.
“The dam construction never stopped, the Chinese – the CPI – never said that they would stop, or suspend the dam,” said the spokesperson. Last month, the corporation launched a PR drive to shift public opinion on the project.
But local communities remain firmly opposed to the dam, which would feed 90% of its electricity output straight into China, even though a large portion of Burma’s population lacks access to the power grid.
“The local people have suffered a lot and they are not seeing any of the benefits from the project,” added Ahnan.
An estimated 15,000 people will be displaced by the project while thousands are already living in two makeshift displacement camps. They have no idea how long they will have to stay or where they might have to go. Campaigners fear that further tension could escalate the ongoing conflict in Kachin state.
A number of other projects in the region are also under construction. “The president has not mentioned the other six dams planned for the May Hka and Mali Hka [rivers] which will have the same impacts to the Irrawaddy River and downstream people as the Myitsone dam,” said the Kachin Development Networking Group last month.
“Massive gold mining and logging is going on upstream of Myitsone. These destructive activities are also threatening the future of the Irrawaddy River.”
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown her weight behind a campaign to save the Irrawaddy, but it is unclear how much influence she will be able to exert in her new role. According to parliamentary law, Burma’s president has unilateral power over some 30 decisions, including mining of natural resources and “dam and irrigation facilities.”