Following recent heavy fighting in northern Shan State, all the planned Salween dam sites in Burma now lie directly in active conflict zones. The Salween Watch Coalition is therefore demanding an immediate halt to all plans to build dams on the Salween River in Burma. This applies directly to the Governments and Corporations of China and Thailand as well as the new Government of Burma
On March 13, 2011, Burma’s military regime broke its 22-year-old ceasefire with the Shan State Army- North, and mobilized over 3,500 troops to launch a fierce attack in central Shan State, shelling civilian targets, committing gang-rape, and displacing thousands of civilians. The fighting has now spread across northern Shan State, to areas adjoining the two planned upper Salween dam sites.
The attack is part of a systematic campaign by the regime to wipe out all ethnic resistance forces, including ceasefire groups, which have refused to come under their control prior to the November 2010 election. Since the election, fighting has intensified in Karen, Karenni and southern Shan States, around the five other planned dam sites along the Salween, and now has spread to northern Shan State.
The dangers of dam building in Burma’s war zones should be evident to Thai and Chinese investors. It is impossible to adhere to meaningful dam building standards when communities are silenced by violence. Apart from the direct security risks to dam building personnel, investors risk their reputations by partnering with a regime that is fuelling escalating conflict.
We are encouraged that the Thai government has since 2010 called for further studies into the impacts of the Hatgyi dam in Karen State, including its human rights impacts. This is a welcome first step into a proper process of transparency and accountability around the planned Salween dams. However, the Thai government and Thai companies are simultaneously proceeding with plans to build the giant Tasang dam in southern Shan State. Only days after Burma’s election, on November 11, 2011, Thailand’s EGAT International and China’s Three Gorges Group Corporation signed an MOU with Burma’s military
rulers to develop the Tasang dam, increasing the investment to 10 billion USD. New surveys are currently being carried out in the area, under heavy armed military escort. There has been no transparency around this process whatsoever.
In March 2011 Chinese government officials stated they were carrying out detailed research into the upstream and downstream impacts of the 13 dams they are planning on the Nu (Salween) River in China, and that if “a single problem” was found they would not move into the construction phase. Again this is welcome news, but it strongly raises the question why China is not delaying its plans to build dams in Burma where there are a multitude of unresolved problems, including an ongoing civil war.
There is therefore no consistency to investors’ standards in implementing the dams along the Salween River. The latest escalation of conflict in Burma should serve as a wake-up call to governments and investors to start abiding by internationally recognized dam standards, and immediately halt their plans to build dams on the Salween River in Burma.