Thursday, 19 June 2008

New Hydropower Dam to Displace Thousands

The Irrawaddy News

More than 3,500 people, including many ethnic Kayan in southern Shan State in eastern Burma, will be displaced by a new dam being built in the Pyinmana hills, according to the Kayan Women’s Union.

The Kayan Women’s Union released a report, “Drowning the Green Ghosts of Kayanland,” on Wednesday saying the Upper Paunglaung Dam will flood 12 villages and submerge more than 5,000 acres of fertile farm land about 26 miles east of Burma’s new capital at Naypyidaw.

Mu Kayan, a spokesperson of the Kayan Women’s Union, said, “Forty years ago, we Kayan people lost our sacred lands to provide electricity to Rangoon. Now the dwelling places of our guardian spirits will again be submerged to power Naypyidaw.”

About 140 megawatts of electricity will be generated by the 99-meter high Upper Paunglaung Dam, whose construction will also provide additional water to increase the generating capacity of the Lower Paunglaung Dam, completed in March 2005, which provides electrical power to Naypyidaw.

The Upper Paunglaung Dam is scheduled to be completed in December 2009.

The Upper Paunglaung Dam is being built by the Yunnan Machinery and Export Co Ltd, one of 24 major hydropower dams planned or under construction in Burma by Chinese companies, said the report.

Meanwhile, reports of human rights abuses including forced labor have increased in local villages near the dam’s construction site, according to the report. The Burmese army provides security in the dam area.

The secretary of Burma Rivers Network, Aung Ngyeh, who is also a Karenni environmentalist, said, “Burmese soldiers are deployed at the dam site. The army has forcibly called local villagers to the construction site and asked them to serve as laborers. The Burmese army also bans villagers from working on their farms. Villagers can’t do their own work because they have to work for the army.”

The Burmese army’s deployment along the Paunglaung River is in direct contravention of the ceasefire agreement between the Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) and the military regime in 1994, according to the report.

The KNLP was formed in 1964 to protest the construction of Burma’s first major hydropower project, the Mobye Dam in Karenni State, which flooded more than 100 villages and displaced many Kayan and Padaung, many of whom became refugees in Thailand. More than 8,000 people in Pekhon, including many Kayan, were also forcibly displaced in southern Shan State by the Mobye Dam.

Kayan people are an indigenous ethnic minority living in an area bordering southern Shan State, northern Karenni State and northern Karen State. The total population is estimated at around 200,000 comprising four ethnic subgroups, the largest being Padaung.

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