CHINA: Dual Pipelines in Burma to Push Ahead Amid Criticism

By Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Sep 9 (IPS) – Despite fresh international criticism of Beijing’s backing for an unpopular regime as the Burmese junta, China sees its alliance with the country’s military as a matter of simple economic expediency and is determined to forge ahead with controversial joint dual oil and gas pipelines that will ensure greater energy security for its robust economy.

This month sees the first digs on the mammoth infrastructure project that will connect China’s southwestern province of Yunnan with Burma’s western coast.

The proposed gas pipeline will transfer gas from the offshore Shwe gas fields in Arakan state all the way to the capital Kunming of Yunnan province and possibly further inland in China. The twin oil pipeline will be used to transfer oil shipped from the Middle East and Africa bypassing the strategically vulnerable Malacca Strait shipping route.

After Burmese activists released a detailed report Monday on the project forecasting it will trigger social unrest and create a public relations fiasco for the Chinese company involved, a state-run newspaper in Beijing rejected the allegations, saying the project was unlikely to be stopped.

The Shwe Gas Movement, a group of Burmese exiles in Bangladesh, India and Thailand, also said the junta’s recent offensive against ethnic rebels near the pipeline route showed that the regime had no concerns about providing stability for investors, which could translate into great security risks for the project undertakers.

“China is not afraid of the threat and criticism,” the ‘Global Times’ – a paper published by the state news agency – quoted an anonymous Chinese official familiar with the issue. “When Myanmar (Burma’s official name) was constructing a pipeline to Thailand in the 1990s, Myanmar activists also criticised the government, but the voice is barely heard now.”

Outside observers though believe the new pipeline project carries greater potential risks than the pipeline conveying gas to Thailand, which they described as a “vehicle for a proliferation of human rights abuses” during its construction and after – such as the widespread use of forced labour and forced evictions.

“Such practices, in the likelihood they would re-occur with respect to this latest pipeline, could very well be the spark to set off a broader conflict,” said Sean Turnell, a Burma expert at Macquarie University in Australia. “Of course, exacerbating matters is the fact that Chinese energy firms have a less than stellar record themselves when it comes to the ruthlessness with which they pursue energy deals.” Continue reading “CHINA: Dual Pipelines in Burma to Push Ahead Amid Criticism”

Dams and rock-blasting projects are destroying biodiversity and traditional cultures of the Mekong

A river becoming a road to ruin

The groans and grumbles emanating from Thai villages along the banks of the Mekong right now suggest that the river is in serious trouble. Villagers are complaining that Chinese dams upstream are causing unseasonably high and low levels that are disrupting river life.

One calamity that befell riverside villages in Chiang Rai was a swift surge of two metres in August last year. The residents, as well as environmental groups, blamed this on the opening of gates at several dams in China’s Yunnan province, including at the huge barrier in Jinhong, the capital of Xishuangbanna administrative region. In just five minutes, the river level jumped half a metre.

Seen as a harbinger of a bleak future for both farmers and fishermen, this single event inundated farmland and villages in three of Chiang Rai’s districts along the river’s bank and its tributaries, creating widespread panic and mass evacuations. Such a swift surge hadn’t happened in 40 years and the villagers were caught unprepared.

Meanwhile, fishermen are seeing their catches dwindle day by day. As hydropower dams upstream block the river’s flow, fish find it hard to adjust to the river’s changing ecology. Researchers reckon their seasonal migrations are being disturbed and disrupted by the dam projects.

Almost immediately, locals pointed the finger of blame at the dams in China. But the Thai government is not out of the loop of responsibility. With ample warning from experts and environmentalists, Bangkok can’t really say it didn’t see this coming. The question is what the government will now do about it. continue
A river becoming a road to ruin

Burmese Army-LIB no. 273, forced resident to serve portering into their operation

September 10, 2009
HURFOM, Yebyu: On August 13th, the Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) no. 273 led by Captain Thein Sein, forced two villagers into service as porters for the column Kyauktalin to Natkyizin. The two Kyauktalin villagers were forced to carry bullets, food supplies, a cooking port, an a communication machine for two days.
Ko Kyi Lwin, a 29 years old Kyauktalin villager, carried about 30 viss* of weight to Natkyizin, which is 10 miles far from Kyauktalin village, northern Yebyu township. “The soldiers didn’t give us food, and mostly they travel at night time without any light. I tried to use my flashlight but they didn’t allow me to use that. It’s not easy for me to walk in nighttime without a light on. I also had to carry a lot of weight, and my shoulder got sore. It wasn’t easy for me to follow them because they walk very fast.”
He added “The soldiers didn’t feed us any food while they forced us to serve as their portering service. So we got very hungry. We had to eat the green banana plants in the jungle. They [the troops] were not patient. The trip would be about 10 miles, but over rough terrain.”
According to Ko Kyi Lwin, a second villager named Ko Ba, 30 years old, was also forced into portering for the LIB 273. According to the Ko Kyi Lwin, Ko Ba only needed to carry the communication machine and some soldiers’ bags.
“The soldiers released us when we arrived at Natkyizin village. They didn’t allow us to enter into the village. I think they were worried that the villagers would see that people are being forced into service as porters,” said Ko Kyi Lwin.
The SPDC government recognizes this region as a “black area”, a region that is outside of the direct control of the Burmese government. Mon, Karen, and Tavoy insurgent groups are active in the area. Incidents of residents being forced into porter service are often reported in the ongoing between the SPDC and insurgent groups.
(Editors Note: All names have been changed for security reasons)
* 30 viss = 105 lbs.

Heavy weaponry and jet fighters to be used against UWSA: Naypyidaw officer

News – Shan Herald Agency for News
TUESDAY, 08 SEPTEMBER 2009 12:32

The Burmese Army will use heavy weaponry and jet fighters if it takes on the Wa and Mongla groups, a high ranking officer from Naypyidaw has let on. The army officer said this at a meeting with village headmen, and government employees in Mueng Yang town, a Kengton source said.

Col. Kyaw Kyaw of the Ministry of Finance and Revenue and Col. Nay Lin, a strategic commander of Mueng Hkat held a meeting with government employees from all departments and headmen in Mueng Yang town.

“Col. Kyaw Kyaw, who came from Naypyidaw, was a commander of Infantry Battalion (IB) 269 in Mueng Yang five or six years ago. Therefore, he was sent to mobilize people in Mueng Yang,” a local said on condition of anonymity.

At a meeting, Col. Kyaw Kyaw said a war between the Burmese Army and Mongla and Wa ceasefire groups was not going to take place. Therefore, he said that locals and government servants should come back to their homes and live peacefully.

“Employees, who have gone into hiding following rumours, must comeback quickly. If they cannot come to work on time, they will be dismissed from their posts. Action will be taken and punishment meted out. Currently the army doesn’t want to fight the Wa and Mongla. If the army does fight them, many battalions will be seen in the town. Jet fighters and heavy weaponry will be used. But I am sure that there won’t be any battle in this area because there’s no preparation,” a local employee quoted the officer as saying.

The military junta occupied the Kokang area following clashes last month. As a result, locals fled to other areas in fear.

“Businessmen and local Chinese people are scared of living in Mongla and Wa areas since the clashes in Kokang. In the past, car expenses increased from 60,000 to 120,000 Kyat in Pang Sang-Tang Yan Road. It increased to 150,000 Kyat last month. Chinese people have already gone back to China. Casinos are closed and restaurants shut at 8 pm,” a trader from Pang Sang said.

The Naypyidaw officer told locals in Mueng Yang that there would be no battle in this area. At the same time, Wa authorities also announced that if clashes occur it will take three-six months to reach Pang Sang. Some locals have therefore come back to the area.