A controversial Chinese dam project in Shan State has been given the go-ahead, as local human rights organisations warned that the development could stoke ongoing conflict in the region.
The project, called Naung Pha dam, will produce 1,200 megawatts, of which 90% will be exported directly to China.
Naung Pha is backed by China’s state-owned Hydrochina Company.
The project has gone ahead despite local communities and human rights organisations protesting against the development.
“While all eyes were on the Irrawaddy Myitsone dam, Burma has quietly sold off the Salween to China,” Sai Khur Hseng, a Shan environmentalist, said. “We fear there has been a trade-off.”
The Naung Pha project is in an area of conflict, with ongoing skirmishes between ethnic Shan armed groups and Burmese government soldiers.
A statement by local Shan human rights groups said that an Australian company, the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC), had been Environmental and Social Impact Assessment for the Naung Pha dam in secret. The business relationship between SMEC and Hydrochina is at this stage unclear.
Since the government gave the project the green light, local communities have been rallying to oppose the dam.
On August 5, about 250 villagers from nine village tracts in Tangyan, as well as the local Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) MP, staged a protest against the dam. While on August 21, about 60 community leaders from nearby areas staged another protest in the town of Hsenwi.
The go-ahead for the dam project comes as Aung San Suu Kyi wrapped up a visit in China last week. The dam project is especially controversial because the majority of the power produced goes to China.
“If China really wants peaceful co-existence with Burma, why is it pushing ahead with unpopular dams which will stoke war?” Sai Khur Hseng said.