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Villagers want end of Salween dams


(dpa) - Thai and Burmese villagers, backed by activists around the world, on Wednesday appealed to the Thai government to end its collaboration with the Burmese military junta on five hydro-electic dams on the Salween River.

"We want the authorities involved to halt the projects until proper studies have been done on the impact on the people and environment in the vicinity of the dams," said April Moe, a villager from the Karreni State in Burma, one of a score of activists who presented their appeal to Thailand's Ministry of Energy on Wednesday.

In May 2005 the Thai Energy Ministry and the Burmese Ministry of Electric Power signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build five hydroelectric dams on the 2,800 kilometre Salween River that runs from Tibet through eastern Burma and at one point defines the Thai-Burmese border.

In December 2005 another MOU was signed between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and Myanmar Department of Hydropower to build the one billion dollar Hutgyi dam, on which construction is due to commence in December.

Egat and China's Sinohydro Corporation will jointly invest in the construction of the dam.

All the MOUs were signed under the government of Thailand's former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"The entire decision making process for the planning and implementation of the Salween hydropower development projects has been shrouded in secrecy," said a protest letter delivered to the Thai Energy Ministry on Wednesday by NGOs and villagers from northern Thailand.

While the planned dams will undoubtedly displace tens-of-thousands of Burmese villagers living in the Karen, Karrenni and Shan territories, they will also have an unknown impact on Thai villagers living near the Salween River in Mae Hong Son province.

"I have been living on the banks of the Salween all my life and I still have no idea what the impact of these dams will be," said Nu Chamnankiripai, a village headman from Mae Sariang district.

"The authorities told us we could get jobs in the tourism industry after the dams are built but maybe we will just become refugees," said Nu.

The five Salween dam projects will be built in areas that are now claimed by Burmese minority groups, some of whom are waging guerrilla wars against the junta.

Fighting in the area has already displaced more than 500,000 ethnic Karen, many of whom are now living in refugee camps inside Thailand.

With the dams likely to displace up to 100,000 people in Burma's eastern provinces, Thailand is likely to be burdened with an influx of even more refugees in the future, Karrenni villager Moe warned.

Activists in various cities around the world were planning on Wednesday to submit similar protests letters against the Salween dams to Thai embassies and consulates in Washington DC, Sydney, New Delhi, Essen, Vancouver, Paris and New York.

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