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Salween Dams Would Displace Thousands, Activist Warns

By Ron Corben/Bangkok, Thailand | February 28, 2007 www.irrawaddy.org

Thailand will be faced with a new influx of Burmese refugees if it proceeds with plans to take part in the construction of a series of dams on Burma's Salween River, a leading campaigner warned on Wednesday.

Communities in northern Thailand would also be uprooted, said Pianporn Deetes, of the non-government organization Living River Siam-Southeast Asia Rivers Network, in a commentary in the English-language daily The Nation.

«No one knows exactly how many people would be affected [by the construction of the proposed dams],» she said. «However, Salween Watch says the conservative estimate is that at least 83,000 people will be uprooted from their homeland in the Shan, Karenni, and Karen states in Burma, and Mae Hong Son province in Thailand.

«If the dams are built, Thailand will not be able to avoid the inevitable influx of new ethnic Burmese refugees from the dam-affected areas,» she warned.

Thailand already is host to at least 140,000 refugees registered in temporary shelters along the border as well as more than one million migrant workers from Burma.

The warnings by Pianporn Deetes came as petitions against the dams were handed in on Wednesday at Thailand's Energy Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission.

Thailand's state-owned Electricity Generating Authority and China's Sinohydro Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding to construct five Salween dams in December 2005. Construction of the first, the Hutgyi Dam, is due to start in December this year at a site 30km from Burma's border with northern Thailand.

The Coordinating Committee on Development and the Salween Watch, which includes environmental and human rights organizations from Thailand, Burma and the international community, said in their petitions that they were «strongly opposed to the cooperation between EGAT and China as well as Burma's military government.»

The planned Salween dams would generate 10,000 megawatts of power, but Asian Development Bank officials say that while there is a growing demand in Thailand for electricity there is a need to take into account environmental and social issues.

The ADB is not involved in the financing of the Salween projects, but has experience as a lender in other dam developments across the region.

The Karenni Development Research Group has estimated that one of the dam projects in Karenni state would inundate 28 towns and villages, including the historical Karenni capital of Bawlake, displacing 30,000 people.

Non-government and human rights groups have accused the authorities involved in planning the projects of a lack of transparency. Other groups maintain that the Burmese military campaigns in Karen State are a pretext to push local communities out of the region and take over the land for future economic development.

Activists in the Philippines joined the campaign and staged a protest outside the Thai embassy in Manila.

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