Burma suspends dam project after rare public protest Burma's president
has ordered a halt to the construction of a ï¿½2.4 billion Chinese-
backed dam in rare example of the a dramatic turnaround by the new
By Ian MacKinnon in Bangkok
9:15AM BST 30 Sep 2011
In a highly unusual statement to parliament, President Thein Sein,
said he was bowing to public pressure. He said the huge hydro-electric
power project was contrary to the will of the Burmese people.
Freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had thrown her weight behind
the human rights groups and environmental activists who were urging a
re-think to the Myistone Dam on the Irrawaddy River.
Analysts cautiously interpreted the unexpected climb-down by the
government, to the detriment of its powerful commercial neighbour, as
another sign that the political change recently acknowledged by Ms Suu
Kyi was gathering steam.
Aung Saw, editor of the Irrawaddy magazine, said: "It's a bold
decision with the underlying message that we cannot kow-tow to
whatever China wants," he said. "This could be another turning point
[indicating] which direction Burma goes in the next decade."
In a letter to the president, a former general who shed his uniform to
assume power, Ms Suu Kyi had backed the warnings of others who said
the dam would force 12,000 people from 63 ethnic Kachin villages from
their homes, flooding an area the size of Singapore.
September 30, 2011
Wary Welcome for Burma Dam Suspension
Daniel Schearf | Bangkok
Sept. 22, 2011.
Environmental activists in Burma are cautiously welcoming President
Thein Seinï¿½s parliamentary announcement to suspend construction of a
controversial hydroelectric dam in the north.
Although the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project has been opposed by
pro-democracy groups and local residents, the rare government
concession came as a surprise to many.
The president said the project would be terminated because it is
against the will of the people, but no official documentation has been
issued to corroborate the announcement.
"If they really stop the project it is a victory of the people," said
Ahnan, a representative of the Thailand-based Burma Rivers Network who
like many in Burma goes by just one name. "But, we cannot trust at
all. We don't see any official statement and we don't see any change
in the construction site, so we don't know is that really [a] stop or
Activists have long criticized the project for a lack of transparency,
public consultation, and its potential impact on the unique
environment along the Irrawaddy River. Its construction also would
have displaced thousands of villagers in an area where Burmaï¿½s
military has been clashing with ethnic Kachin rebels.
Unusually candid criticism of the project surfaced in the media and in
small street protests, and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi wrote a
letter urging the dam's suspension.
But until Friday, authorities largely ignored those concerns and said
construction would go ahead.
According to Ahnan, Beijing, which backed the project and was expected
to purchase the electricity it generated, has yet to issue an official
reaction to new announcement.
The president said Burma would negotiate with the Chinese company
building the dam, but he gave no further details. Chinaï¿½s Foreign
Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Friday had no immediate reaction to the
decision, explaining that he needs to learn and verify the information.
Regardless of official confirmation that the project will indeed be
terminated, U Ohn of the Forest Resource Environment Development and
Conservation Association called the decision the best news of the year
for the biodiversity hotspot.
"I'm very glad to hear that this dam is going to be stopped," he said.
"We can get money from other, smaller dams in our areas instead of a
big dam which is very very devastating to the environment physically,
The $3.6 billion dam was the largest of seven being constructed by the
China Power Investment Corporation. Activists say the decision-making
process for all of the dams must be transparent, include public
participation, and consider the environmental and social impact on the
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