MYITKYINA, Burma — More than 10 Kachin civilians including a local Catholic nun were arrested Tuesday evening for returning to Tang Hpre, a village forcibly relocated in 2010 to make way for the Myitsone mega dam, according to eyewitness in Kachin state.
Despite Burmese President Thein Sein's announcement last September that that controversial Myitsone project was officially halted, more than 2000 villagers from Tang Hpre and 4 other relocated villages remain officially barred from returning to their homes.
According to an individual with knowledge of the arrests, the villagers were detained by the Myitkyina police on the orders of the Myitkyina district administrator officer Khin Maung Cho.
It appears that Khin Maung Cho was acting at the request of representatives of China Power Investment (CPI), the Chinese state-owned firm behind the project, which still maintains a presence at the dam site.
Eyewitnesses told the Kachin News Group, that the villagers were handcuffed in a government administration office at the Aung Min Thar relocation site. Following their arrest the villagers were transferred to a facility located in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, about 30 miles away.
Reached in Thailand, a spokesman for the environmental activist group the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) denounced the villagers’ arrests. Tsa Ji, said their jailing shows that the government had not actually stopped the project because the expelled villagers have not been allowed to return to their homes.
On February 23 several villagers were forcibly taken to the office of the Myitkyina district administrator and read a letter purportedly from President Thein Sein which said they were still banned from returning home to Tang Hpre village.
Despite this warning, the villagers returned to Tang Hpre and the next day held a prayer service to praise the suspension of the dam project. The service was attended by a group of 88-generation student activists, including the legendary leader Min Ko Naing, who was recently released from prison.