Monday, September 19, 2011

Myitsone Controversy Sparks Discord in Naypyidaw

Myitsone Controversy Sparks Discord in Naypyidaw

By WAI MOE Monday, September 19, 2011

The Burmese government hosted a workshop on Saturday in Naypyidaw to
discuss the impact of hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River, with
ministers, NGOs and Chinese investment interests represented. However,
far from being a carefully orchestrated seminar conducted by the
government to sanction the controversial project, the debate turned into
heated argument.

According to sources in the capital, no decision was reached on whether
to suspend the Myitsone hydropower project. They said several government
ministers differed on the pros and cons of the project, and that the
issue may be brought before parliament.

Notably, President Thein Sein and other high-ranking ministers were seen
to oppose the project.
"President U Thein Sein needs the support of more than 400 members of
parliament to change the proposal," said a senior journalist who spoke
on condition of anonymity. "There are some good signals as several
ministers openly aired their concerns about this project."

�The Chinese looked pretty uncomfortable at the workshop on Saturday,�
he added, referring to a delegation sent by the dam's main investor,
China Power Investment Corporation (CPI).

A diplomatic source in Rangoon said shortly after the new administration
came into office in March, rumors began spreading about internal
conflicts between hardliners and reformists.

At the workshop, Minister for Industry-1 and Industry-2 ex-vice admiral
Soe Thein, who is also Burma�s industrial development committee
chairman, openly called for a review of the terms of the contract, and
spoke about accountability.

He said the project has to be reviewed from a social, an economic and a
defensive point of view.

�The project has to be reviewed and members of parliament must be
informed,� he said. �CPI currently has control over the EIA
[Environmental Impact Assessment]�this is not the right way to proceed.

"We need to seek cooperation with experts, we need to debate and review
the issue for the national interest," he said.

Burma�s state-newspapers on Sunday did not report Soe Thein�s speech at
the workshop in detail.

Speaking at the workshop, Win Tun, the minister for environmental
conservation and forestry, said, "If the negative impacts of the project
outweigh the positive, the environmental problems could affect not only
us but also future generations.�

Burma's state media reported largely on Minister of Electric Power-1 Zaw
Min who stated that even though further assessments will be made, the
project will go ahead regardless.

Zaw Min also vowed he would continue working for the implementation of
energy projects as per his remit within the government.

On Sept.10, he also slammed the anti-Myitsone protests as "a disease."

Sources said an ongoing internal disagreement has evolved over Myitsone
and other issues between so-called hardliners led by First
Vice-president ex-Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo alongside Information and
Culture Minister ex Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan, Finance Minister ex Maj-Gen Hla
Tun, Upper House speaker ex Maj-Gen Khin Aung Myint, against the
"reformers�: Thein Sein, Lower House speaker ex Gen Shwe Mann,
Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and a few others.

Tin Aung Myint Oo is known to be well connected with Chinese investors
and Chinese tycoons in Burma, and he has long handled foreign
investments and trade in an official capacity.

On Friday in Naypyidaw, Tin Aung Myint Oo met Zhao Deyi, the president
of the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC) which has a massive
investment in the Yunnan to Kyaukpyu rail project.

"Vice president U Tin Aung Myint Oo may not dare to oppose the president
on the issue of this hydro dam,� said an official for an environmental
NGO in Rangoon. "I am sure that U Thein Sein will oppose the dam because
he is a serious environmentalist."

However, he downplayed that the internal disagreement will be
threatening to the regime in Naypyidaw by saying: "It is a good strategy
of the military not to act like politicians. They show splits in
opinion, but they cooperate behind our backs."

Security Tightened at Chinese Embassy
By SAI ZOM HSENG Monday, September 19, 2011
Security was beefed up in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon on
Monday morning after a rumor spread that it was to be the venue of a
protest calling for a halt to construction on the Myitsone Dam project
on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State.

However, according to a Rangoon-based journalist, there were no signs of
protesters�only riot police and reporters.

"Trucks full of riot police arrived in front of the embassy in the
morning,� she said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They took up
defensive stances.�

Sources in Rangoon said that a rumor had spread among both local people
and the foreign Burmese community that some local groups had organized a
demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy, calling for the Chinese
authorities to put a stop to the Myitsone megadam because China is the
main investor in the project, which is located in Kachin State.

Many people, including famous writers, scholars and politicians, are
currently demanding a stop to the project because of its social and
environmental impacts.

Several groups claim that the megadam project violates the 2008
constitution, pointing to Chapter 1, Article 45 which says "The Union
shall protect and conserve the natural environment.

On Sept 10., Burmese Union Minister and Minister of Electric Power-1 Zaw
Min said that the government will continue the construction on the
Myitsone Dam.

At a press briefing in Naypyidaw on Sept. 10, Zaw Min said the
government is building the dam in the national interest and intends to
complete its construction.

"There are a few bad things, such as there will be no place for
biodiversity and the people will be displaced by the reservoirs, etc,"
he said. "But we have to compare this with the national benefits which
we will get from the project. After we take away those bad things, the
project will definitely affect positively some 50-60 million people in
the country."

But at a workshop in Naypyidaw on Saturday titled "Impact of the
Hydropower Project on the Irrawaddy River," Zaw Min said, "The change of
environment and its impact will be studied while implementing the
project and operating plants as it is changing constantly. The project
will proceed in accordance with the decision of the Ministry of
Environmental Conservation and Forestry."

Construction on the dam commenced in 2009. If and when completed, the
dam will produce some 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Burma�s Ministry
of Electric Power-1 has contracted Asia World, a private Burmese company
owned by US-sanctioned Stephen Law, and the China Power Investment
Corporation (CPI) to construct the dam. The dam's reservoir is expected
to be completed by 2019, but thousands of people in Kachin State have
already been forced to relocate.

Meanwhile, The Economist, a London-based weekly news magazine, said in
June that China has a large stake in Burma, and is the country�s leading
foreign investor. Myitsone is one of many hydropower, mining and
infrastructure projects there, it reported.

"China, for its part, worries about the security of its investments and
people," The Economist reported. "In the past it has leaned on Myanmar�s
leaders to prevent fighting between the army and the ethnic
insurgencies. When conflict broke out in 2009 with the Kokang, an
ethnic-Han-Chinese minority, 37,000 people fled to China, provoking
sharp criticism of the Burmese junta."

According to data by The Economist, between one to two million Chinese
citizens are living in northern Burma working in the jade and gems trade.
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