(Mizzima) – Burma’s President Thein Sein informed both houses of the Burmese Parliament by letter on Friday that the controversial Myitsone Dam project on the Irrawaddy River would be halted during his government’s term.
According to Rangoon media reports, he cited general public concern about the environmental destruction that the project would cause.
A retired general, Thein Sein was quoted as saying, that the “Myitsone Dam construction will be halted during our government term," in a letter he sent to Parliament.
It is unclear when the president’s letter was sent, but an article in The Voice weekly cited five points of public concern about the environmental cost of the project, which is located at the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha rivers in Kachin State.
Thein Sein said the government will discuss the contract agreed to with neighboring China, which is funding the project.
Meanwhile, sources close to Naypyidaw suggested that Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, now in China, is visiting Beijing because Chinese leaders want to discuss the Myitsone Dam project.
A key leader of the dam’s opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, released an open letter calling for the dam’s halt on August 11.
She said the lack of sound planning, the failure to enforce necessary conservation laws and poor ecological awareness “have created diverse problems.”
To carry out the Myitsone Dam project, which will generate 6,000 megawatts, five embankments will be constructed on the Maykha River and two embankments will be built on the Malikha River, according to environmentalists.
In her statement Suu Kyi warned, “Since the commencement of the Myitsone Dam project, the perception long held by Kachin people is that successive Burmese governments have neglected their interests.” Kachin State is now the location of renewed battles between government and Kachin armed groups.
Since 2007, despite the objections of environmentalists and local residents, the project has been carried out by Asia World Company and the China Power Investment Corporation. An estimated 12,000 people from 63 villages have been relocated.
A total of eight dams are scheduled to be built along the Irrawaddy River, the Maykha River, and the Malikha River at Myitsone, Chibwe, Chibwenge, Khaunglanphu, Pashi, Phizaw, Laiza and Lakin. Each dam will generate between1,400 megawatts and 3,600 megawatts for a total power output of 13,360 megawatts, according to government figures.
Earlier, Lama Gumhpan, a senior figure in the de facto government that administers the territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization, told Mizzima that the former junta’s reckless pursuit of dam projects was more evidence that it was willing to “ignore the concerns of Burma’s ethnic minorities.”
On March 16, the KIO sent an open letter signed by KIO chairman Lanyaw Zawng Hra to Chinese President Hu Jintao, urging China to stop the planned Myitsone Dam to be built in Kachin State and warned that the controversial project could lead to civil war. The letter said that the KIO would not be responsible if a civil war broke out because of the dam project.
On April 17, 2010, a series of at least 10 separate bombs exploded at the Myitsone Dam construction site. At least one Chinese worker was killed and some temporary buildings were damaged.
Earlier, the Burmese government told the Kachin Independence Army to withdraw its troops from a temporary military base near the Taping Dam project no later than June 11. On June 10, fighting broke out between government and Kachin troops. So far, efforts to broker a cease-fire have failed.
Regarding China, Suu Kyi said in her statement, “We believe that, keeping in mind the interests of both countries, both governments would wish to avoid consequences which might endanger lives and homes.
“We would urge that in the interests of both national and international harmony, concerned parties should reassess the scheme and cooperate to find solutions that would prevent undesirable consequences."
The statement concluded, “Together we can find solutions to problems, ecological, economic, technical, and political, related to the Irrawaddy.”
Earlier, Win Tin, a co-founder of the National League for Democracy, says he and his colleagues were “deeply concerned” by the potentially devastating impact of the 152-meter high Myitsone Dam and worries that the project will cause increased ethnic tensions because of the widespread displacement of villagers and the impact on the environment.
The project’s critics also fear that restricting the flow of the river on the upper Irrawaddy will have devastating consequences farther downstream, depleting fish stocks and severely impacting agricultural production in the Irrawaddy delta where 60 percent of Burma’s rice is produced.
Construction and financing on the project is headed by the China Power Investment Corporation (CPI), a state-owned giant electrical company that has partnered with Burma’s state power utility Myanma Electric Power Enterprise (MEPE) and the Burmese conglomerate Asia World, which is controlled by Stephen Law and his family.
The Development Networking Group said that the creation of the dam’s reservoir will flood an area larger than Singapore and will displace scores of villages with an estimated population of around 15,000 people while also destroying ecologically sensitive areas, something Win Tin said is unacceptable.
“The relocation of thousands of Kachin villagers is a great problem,” Win Tin said.
Win Tin was not alone. Sai Sai, the coordinator of the Burma Rivers Network, said the Myitsone dam will “have a major disruptive impact on people living downstream from the project.”
Sai Sai and his fellow activists are particularly concerned that because of the dam, water on Burma’s most important river “will be stored and released depending on the electricity needs of the Chinese, leading to unpredictable water shortages and surges.”
A research group, Power in Asia, reported that official Chinese figures put the estimated total cost of the 15-year, seven-dam mega project at US $30 billion (200 billion yuan).