Burmese crackdown continues
Report by Corinna Lotz
Brutal political repression continues in Burma as blogger Nay Phone Latt mysteriously vanished last week after being arrested by police. Campaigners on behalf of political prisoners have said that over 700 people have been added to those languishing in Burmese jails since the dramatic Buddhist-led protests last September.
Tate Naing, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, said that there are “currently at least 1864 political prisoners in Burma, not including all the cases of detention since the crackdown”. Many of the political activists were now in labour camps.
Under conditions where any political opposition is brutally silenced, the Burmese military junta, with Chinese assistance, is constructing one of the largest dams in Asia, according to The Irrawaddy newspaper. Villagers in the area are being extorted and abused by the Burmese army. The hydropower project is being built on the Irrawaddy confluence about 26 miles (42 km) north of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, in northern Burma. The report continues:
About 20 Chinese and a handful of Burmese engineers are working on the site, plus about 300 construction workers from the Asia World Company, owned by Tun Myint Naing, one of the discredited cronies with links to the Burmese regime. The workers have built shelters in the area by the site and are currently tasked with detonating dynamite underneath the Irrawaddy River to break up the rocks and create space for the dam.
The Burmese state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, reported in May 2007 that seven hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River had been designed to generate a combined total of 13,360 megawatts (MW) of electricity. The report said that the largest dam—Myitsone hydropower project—would produce some 3,600 MW.
The hydropower projects are being implemented under an agreement signed in late 2006 with the state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) and Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power No 1.
However, while construction is underway, a series of human rights abuses in the local areas have occurred following the arrival of Light Infantry Battalion 121, said residents. The source who had observed the dam site said, “The Burmese army didn’t stay in their camp. They went to Tanghpare village [some 3 miles (5 km) from the dam site] and took over a library and are staying there. Now they do whatever they want.
The army are extorting money form local merchants and taking materials from shops in Tanghpare without paying,” he said. “They are also taking vegetables from the villagers’ farms and walking away with pigs and chickens."
The observer said that the Burmese army had been moved into the area as security for the hydroelectric dam site. He added that local villagers didn’t dare to say anything because they had been threatened by authorities and warned about making contact with foreign or exiled media.
Naw La, coordinator of the Chiang Mai-based Kachin Environmental Organization, on Tuesday said, “The natural heritage of the Kachin people in Myitsone area will be destroyed. More than 40 villages near the construction site will be flooded if the dam is built. The reinforcement of soldiers, forced relocations, deforestation and floods will follow hand-in-hand with its construction.”
More than 10,000 villagers are currently living in those 40 villages, said Naw La.
He added: “If they intend to build a dam, the authorities should inform the villagers of the environmental and social impact assessment and let them become involved in the decision making. However, the authorities haven’t contacted the villagers since the project’s inception.”
Some villagers are anticipating displacement from the dam site area and have already bought houses in Myitkyina, while others have been forced to seek shelter in the mountains near their villages, said the observer in Myitkyina.
An employee of the Kachin Consultative Assembly said that an earlier letter of complaint had been sent to the government asking it not to build a dam o¬n the Irrawaddy confluence. The letter pointed out that the dam would destroy the lives and property of local people, damage natural resources and cause the loss of irreplaceable natural habitat. However, the government has not responded to the letter, he said.
Burma is currently cooperating with China and Thailand on several hydropower projects across the country. It expects hydropower projects to double production of electricity in the military-ruled country by 2009.
3 February 2008