MYITKYINA, Burma — More than 5 months after Burma’s nominally civilian government announced the suspension of the controversial Myitsone dam project, none of the more than 2000 villagers who were forcibly relocated to make way for the massive hydroelectric scheme have yet to receive official permission to return home, say environmental activists and opposition critics.
Rather than allow the villagers to return, authorities have turned much of the Myitsone area into a toxic large-scale gold project, according to researchers with the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG).
Only staffs from Burma’s state-owned Mining Enterprise No. 2, its partner on the Myitsone gold project Hka Ka Bo Mining and the Chinese power firm behind the project are allowed to enter the Myitsone area. Sings have been erected throughout the area indicating that trespassers will be arrested.
Rawang Jung, speaker of the Kachin State legislature and a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is the owner of the Hka Ka Bo Mining firm.
While toxic mining practices have been used at the Myitsone area for a number of years, video recently obtained by KDNG shows that since the dam project's suspension in September a large portion of the once productive farm land adjacent to the confluence of the Mali Hka and N’Mai Hka rivers has been turned into a toxic waste land scarred by large mining pits containing cyanide and mercury pools.
The environmental impact on the Irrawaddy River (also known as Mali Hka in Kachin) is expected to be severe, KDNG has also obtained video showing a toxic soup cyanide and mercury-laced fluid being dumped to the river.
Ah Nan a spokesperson for the KDNG calls the present situation catastrophe “although the international community has praised President Thein Sein for suspending the Myitsone project, the people forcibly relocated from the area have not been allowed to come home and rebuild their lives. Instead the government is pushing ahead with toxic gold mining in the Myitsone area despite serious environmental and human rights concerns”.
The planned 152-meter high Myitsone Dam was to be the first in a series of seven on the Upper Irrawaddy that according to the dam’s opponents will dramatically affect the lives of millions of people who live downstream, including in the Irrawaddy delta, home to two thirds of Burma’s rice production.
Of the five villages that were forcibly relocated in 2010 and 2011 to make way for the dam, three of them were completely bulldozed. According to KDNG at a fourth village, Tang Hpre (also Tanghpre) “all public buildings including schools and orange orchards, were destroyed in order to discourage people from returning home”.
Villagers shown letter from Thein Sein banning their return
Villagers from Tang Hpre now living at the Aung Min Thar relocation camp were told during a February 23 meeting with local government officers that Burma's President had banned them from returning to their village. During the meeting which took at place Myitkyina district chief Khin Maung Cho's office, the former military officer showed the villagers a letter from Thein Sein which specifically said the villagers were not allowed to return to their homes.
According to an individual present at the meeting the later also said that villagers were not allowed to begin farming at the relocation site because they have already been “adequately compensated”.
Shortly after the meeting the villagers were forced by officials at the relocation site to sign documents stating they would not leave their new place of residence.
KDNG says that the relocation sites where the displaced people were forced to move to are completely inadequate for their needs. There is no space for farming and the villagers have been driven into poverty.
A group of about 100 villagers from Tang Hpre have defied the government's orders and moved back home over the past few months. Their future however remains uncertain.
Dam construction moving forward despite Thein Sein's halt
According to KDNG the Myitsone dam project has continued despite Thein Sein's announcement that it would be postponed. China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), the Chinese firm behind the project continues to build an electric transformer at Nawng Hkying village in Waimaw (also spelled Waingmaw) Township. CPI workers also remain at the dam site and in nearby Myitkyina.
CPI is also proceeding with the building of 6 other dams located on the upper Irrawaddy, although fighting in Kachin state appears to have slowed the firm's progress.
In a press release issued Friday, KDNG spokesperson Tsa Ji was quoted “In this situation all of us shouldn’t think that the Irrawaddy River is safe now. We must continue to protect the Irrawaddy from all dams and ensure that the relocated people can safely go back home.”
88-generation student leaders join to Kachin prayer on Myitsone dam halt
On February 24th a group of 88-generation Burmese student including recently released Min Ko Naing joined a special Kachin prayer session at Tang Hpre village, where the villagers are not supposed to return to.
Rev. Tu Hkawng who organized the prayer service told Kachin News Group, “the Burmese student leaders joined our special prayer service in which we praised President Thein Sein’s suspension of the dam at our Myitsone”.
At the meeting Min Ko Naing gave a short speech in which he said he and the other students will work together with Kachin people to preserve the environment of Myitsone.
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