Mekong Utility Watch

Thai government urged to pull out of Salween dam projects

Sai Silp, The Irrawadd

Several Thai scholars and members of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission appealed to the Thai government o­n Friday to abandon plans to build hydro-electric dams o­n the Salween and Mekong rivers.

The dams would have a serious impact o­n the environment and livelihoods of people in the region of the two rivers, they said in an open letter to the new, interim government.

The letter was issued at the end of a two-day conference in Chiang Mai entitled “Mekong-Salween: Peoples, Water, and the Golden Land of Suvanabhumi/Southeast Asia.”

The letter, read to the conference by Chanvit Kasetsiri, a leading scholar from Bangkok’s Thammasat University, said: “The Mekong and Salween rivers are the major resources for more than a hundred million people in this region. So some governments or international organizations should not decide solely o­n any development projects without the participation of local people.”

Wasan Panitch, a member of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, told the conference that his organization had held talks with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand o­n the Salween dam projects, but had received no clear answer to questions about the effects of the projects o­n ethnic people living in the area.

EGAT signed a memorandum of understanding last year with Burma’s Hydroelectric Power Department o­n a study project for the first of the Salween River dams, the 1,000 megawatt Hutgyi dam, in Karen State. Construction is due to start in November 2007. Reports that a memorandum of understanding o­n the actual construction of the dam is to be signed in December have been denied by EGAT.

An EGAT worker had died from injuries he suffered in a landmine explosion in the Salween River region, but EGAT had denied it was engaged in projects in conflict areas, Wasan said.

The Shan human rights activist Charm Tong said that since the projects had first been planned the number of military bases in the area of the proposed dams had been increasing. The projects had brought “more forced relocation and rights abuses,” she said. “Local ethnic people are the victims.”

In another Salween River dam project, an agreement o­n the construction of a dam at Tasang in Shan State was signed in April between Thailand’s MDX construction company and Burma’s Department of Hydroelectric Power.

The memorandums of understanding relating to the planned Salween River dams were signed during the term of office of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the interim government has promised to review all agreements reached during Thaksin’s administration, checking them for transparency and legitimacy. Activists, however, fear the Salween dam projects will proceed even if the Thai government revokes its investment.

Friday, November 24, 2006

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