Egat urged to drop Salween dam project

Construction News Laos Myanmar

THAILAND’S power utility Egat has been accused of exacerbating conflict in Myanmar’s Shan state by backing a controversial dam on the Salween.

More than a dozen Shan community groups called on the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand and China’s Three Gorges Corporation yesterday to pull out of the huge Mong Ton Dam, saying the US$8-billion (Bt272-billion) project would be an environmental and social catastrophe.

The dam would be the highest in Southeast Asia, at 241 metres, and have a massive reservoir that would stretch two-thirds the length of Shan state. It would flood about 100 ethnic villages in an area the size of Singapore, including the unique “Thousand Islands” area in Keng Kham Valley.

Chinese engineers have been drilling tunnels in the banks of the Salween this year, doing hydrological and geological tests in a section of the river made off-limits to local people, Shan and Thai activists said at a press briefing in Bangkok.

“The Mong Ton Dam site lies in an area contested by several of the largest ethnic armed groups in Shan state,” the groups said in a statement.

“The areas around the dam site and its planned reservoir are heavily militarised by both government and ethnic armed forces. “The potential flood area has been largely depopulated since a massive anti-insurgency campaign in 1996-98, which uprooted over 300,000 villagers in central Shan state. The remaining rural communities continue to suffer abuses committed with impunity by [39 battalions of] government troops.

“If the government proceeds with building the Mong Ton Dam under current conditions, it is [certain] they will send in even greater numbers of troops and increase military fortifications to secure the area. This will fuel the conflict and lead to increased abuses against local communities.”

The groups, including Sapawa, the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women’s Action Network, said the Salween was one of the most pristine rivers in the region, but locals had not been included in the decision-making process. About 90 per cent of the 7 gigawatts of power generated by the dam would be sent to China and Thailand, while thousands of more people would lose homes.

“It’s not the right time for Thai companies to sign these kinds of agreements – when there is still a lot of conflict going on,” Pianporn Deetes from International Rivers said. “We need democracy [in Myanmar] before these sorts of deals go ahead.”

Egat, she said, had many deals to buy power from Laos and Myanmar, but its forecasts for demand were often way above what Thailand actually used.