Saviours sought to halt Irrawaddy River dam project

The voices like those of a Kachin Baptist pastor against the largest Irrawaddy River dam project site in Burma’s northern Kachin State are often heard saying: “We don’t like it 100 percent but we cannot do anything,” “We are left to pray to Almighty God alone.”

These voices are heard from among ethnic Kachin Christian residents in the villages near the hydropower project site in upper Irrawaddy River at the confluence of Mali-N’Mai Rivers (Mali-N’Mai Zup in Kachin) or Myitsone in Burmese after all their appeals to stop the project fell on deaf ears of the Burmese ruling junta.

A Kachin Baptist Church in Tang Hpre village which is located at the confluence, 27 miles north of Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina has a special regular prayer service to stop the hydropower project since the project inspection started in 2006, said Church leaders.

A church leader told KNG, “We have already declared our attitude regarding stopping the project to the head of Burma’s ruling junta, Senior-General Than Shwe but the project cannot be stopped.  Now, we can do nothing except pray to God.”

In Tang Hpre Kachin Baptist Church, prayer services on the project are made separately by youth, women and men every week, and the fasting prayer service for all followers is once a month, added Church leaders.

Unfortunately, a new Baptist Church was to be constructed in Tang Hpre and necessary construction material was collected last year but the construction was stopped by the church itself for there was no sign of stopping the project, Church leaders said.

In reality, the Mali-N’Mai confluence is one of the most precious places for the entire people in Kachin State. It is also the most scenic in terms of nature’s beauty. It is one of the most famous tourist spots in military-ruled Burma.

During 2006-2007, Kachin villagers near Myitsone, elders and Kachin community leaders in different areas of Kachin State appealed to stop the project through local administrative offices to the leader of the junta, senior general Than Shwe.

There were two main reasons for stopping the project in the appeal--- firstly, the confluence is not only the natural- heritage of Kachin State but it is also linked with Kachin civilization and history. Secondly, the flood from the dams will impact the lives and livelihoods of people in the villages around the project site severely.

The residents of Myitsone and Kachin people are very upset because they received no reply or there was no action on their appeal from the junta for over two years.  But, the project is being implemented with more and more machinery and man power.

With security support of the ruling junta, the Myitsone hydropower project is being jointly implemented by Asia World Company of Burma and Chinese government’s China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) since 2006.

Mass scale Chinese workers to arrive for dam construction

Hundreds of Chinese engineers and workers will arrive at the project site in October this year for starting construction of the dam, said sources in the Asia World Company.

Several houses for Chinese engineers and required camps for 15,000 Chinese labourers are being constructed at three main places in the project site by the Asia World Company, said local eyewitnesses.

They will not go back to their home towns in China before the construction of the dams is completed, said sources close to Asia World Company.

At the moment Chinese engineers have marked with sticks, Chinese words and red-coloured flags both in the water and the river bank.  They plan to construct three huge dams at the site.

The villagers in Dumgan, 14 miles north of Myitkyina have already been told by Asia World Company that the incoming Chinese labourers will be based around them and they may behave wildly and violently towards the natives, said villagers.

If the Myitsone hydropower project is completed, over 50 Kachin villages around Myitsone have to be relocated and hundreds of thousands of people in Myitkyina and Waingmaw towns will be threatened and have to live with floods from the outbreak of dams.

Relation between company’s constructors and locals

Chinese employers under CPI in the Myitsone hydropower site accept local people as short time workers in the project but the local workers are checked often as to whether they report project information to others or not, said local workers in the company.

Local Kachin workers in Asia World Company said, they are often warned by Chinese employers not to report the information of project activities to others. They added that Chinese employers seem to deal with local Kachin workers as enemies--- the destroyers of the project.

Generally, the local workers get jobs in the fields such as ferry drivers, road construction workers and general jobs.

In contrast, Asia World Company has built a Baptist Church in Lahpre (Kahpre) village, 16 miles north of Myitkyina, where only 15 families live.  It cost over 10 million Kyat (est. US $10,152) and will be inaugurated soon, said villagers of Lahpre.

Local Christians added, the company also offers donation to the local Kachin Churches for Christian cerebrations like Christmas and New Year as well as Christian funerals.

According to local Kachin Churches, they accept the offers by Asia World Company but they dislike construction of the hydropower plant near the Myitsone.

Kachins urge junta to stop the Myitsone dam project

Kachins in villages near the Myitsone officially opposed the project when Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) from Japan inspected it for the first time at the Myitsone for a hydropower project during 2002-2003.

After the Japanese KEPCO withdrew from the inspection, Asia World Company in Burma and the Chinese government’s China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) took up the project following an agreement between China and Burma’s ruling junta in 2006.

Again, local people near the Myitsone opposed the project at the state level but the appeal was rejected.

On May 21, 2007, under the leadership of the Kachin Nationals' Consultative Assembly (KNCA), 12 elders and Kachin community leaders including a leader of Tang Hpre village at the Myitsone from different areas of Kachin State officially appealed to Burma’s ruling junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe.

In the appeal, two Kachin prominent persons whose personal business ventures are closely linked with the ruling junta, Rev. Dr. Lahtaw Saboi Jum, Church-based Kachin peace mediator, former general secretary of Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), founder of national NGO called Shalom Foundation (SF) and member of advisory committee of another NGO called Metta Development Foundation, and Sutdu Yup Zau Hkawng, owner of Jadeland Myanmar Co. Ltd were invited to join the appeal by KNCA but they both refused.

Since mid-2007, All Kachin Students’ Union (AKSU), an underground student organization based in Kachin State has mainly organized the anti-Myitsone dam poster movements in Myitkyina.

Shadang Zau Shawng, one of AKSU’s leader told KNG, “All Kachin people and organizations must oppose the junta’s Myitsone hydropower project because the electricity from the project will be sold to China for the junta’s income.  If they implement the project despite the opposition by the Kachins, the future consequences will be totally on China and the junta.”

Myitsone electricity for factories in China’s Yunnan province

Sources close to Asia World Company said the CPI is implementing the Myitsone hydropower project for fulfilling electricity needs of factories in China’s southwest Yunnan province bordering Burma.

China plans to have an industrial zone in Yunnan and the products from it will be easily transported to neighbouring Burma and India through Burma along the Ledo Road or Burma Road. The road was used for transporting weapons and rations to Chinese forces in Yunnan in World War II.

It is for this reason Yunnan province will need a lot of electricity and has to rely on hydropower plants in northern Burma.

The Myitsone hydropower project will generate 3,600 MWs of electricity but the electricity will be provided to China according to the agreement between the Chinese and Burmese governments in 2006.

The report “Damming the Irrawaddy” produced by Thailand-based Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) in 2007 stated, the total electricity generated by Myitsone hydropower project will be worth US $ 500 million per year.

The Asia World Company and CPI are supposed to build seven hydropower projects in Kachin State as of 2006. A total of 13,360 MWs of electricity will be generated from the seven projects.

Currently, a hydropower project is being implemented in upper N’Mai River in Chipwi (Chibwe) east of Kachin State.

(Nawdin Lahpai is editor of Kachin News Group, KNG)