Thailand Faces Flak for Backing Mekong Dams

BANGKOK, Jul 29, 2010 (IPS) – Northern Thai villagers living on Mekong River’s banks are poised to join a growing tide of opposition against a planned cascade of 11 dams to be built on the mainstream of South-east Asia’s largest body of water.

These communities, many of them from the northern Thai province of Chiang Rai, are drafting a petition to be submitted in the coming weeks to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They see this step as the first in a long battle to protect a riverine culture and livelihood that has come down generations.

The target of the Thai villagers’ ire is the Sayaboury dam, to be built across a part of the Mekong that flows through neighbouring Laos. In opposing it, they are coming up against powerful Thai interests behind this dam project.

The 1,260-megawatt Sayaboury dam is the one in the most advanced planning stage among the 11 dams, followed by the 360-mw Don Sahong dam, which is also in Laos, where nine of the lower Mekong dams are to be built. Two other dams on the river’s mainstream are planned in Cambodia.

The backers of the Sayaboury dam include a Thai-based dam developer, four Thai commercial banks that are reported to have pledged funds for the dam and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), a state utility that signed an agreement in Laos in June to buy power once the new dam’s turbines come to life.

“The local communities are upset at the direct involvement of Thailand in a dam that could permanently damage their livelihood,” said Pianporn Deetes, coordinator of Save the Mekong Coalition, a Bangkok-based network of environmentalist and grassroots activists. “Their fishing livelihood will be affected, because the dams across the Mekong’s mainstream will damage fish migration patterns for spawning.” Continue reading “Thailand Faces Flak for Backing Mekong Dams”

Hutgyi hydro project back on track

Myanmar Times
By Thomas Kean

(Volume 26, No. 521)

A HYDROPOWER project in eastern Myanmar appears to be back on track after a new Memorandum of Agreement – four and a half years after the original – was signed on April 24 in Nay Pyi Taw.

The MoA for the Hutgyi project was signed by the Department of Hydropower Planning, under the Ministry of Electric Power (1), China’s SinoHydro Corporation, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) International and local firm International Group of Entrepreneur at the ministry building, state media reported last week.

The 1360-megawatt (MW) Hutgyi dam will be built in Kayin State along the Than Lwin River; the cost is tipped at more than US$1 billion.

In December 2005, EGAT signed an agreement with the department to develop the project. Chinese company SinoHydro later joined the consortium in June 2006.

The dam will comprise eight 170MW turbines, according to SinoHydro, who is providing most of the financing for the project.

A feasibility study and detailed design report were completed in August and September 2007 respectively but construction work is still yet to get underway. Last week’s report did not give an expected completion date for the project. The dam was originally expected to begin generating electricity in 2015 or 2016.

Karen army takes blame for grenade attack

One of Burma’s biggest ethnic armies, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s grenade attack on a hydropower plant in eastern Burma’s Karenni state.

Saw Mae Ae Sein, commander of KNLA Brigade 2, said that an elite unit was yesterday sent to the dam site to carry out the attack.

The dam, currently under construction, has typically caused controversy and led to a militarisation of the surrounding area as the army looks to secure swathes of land for the project.

“There are concerns for the local’s survival; locals have been facing threats of shootings, oppression, forced labour, torture and forced relocation,” he said.

He added that the Karen army, which has been waging a 60-year civil war against the Burmese government, “had to strike because if we didn’t, the district would not survive.”

Troops from the 10,000-strong KNLA launched rockets and heavy weapons at the dam site, while the Burmese army returned fire. The fight last for about an hour, Saw Mae Ae Sein said.

“There were no casualties on our side but there were some on the government side, as well as some damage to their buildings.”

He said that the KNLA had not intended to injure civilians, “but militarily, it was unavoidable as they were at the site working for the government. Besides, it was likely that they were just people handpicked by the government to work at the site.”

Construction on Thaukyegat hydropower project begun in 2003. Saw Mae Ae Sein said that around 30 villages and nearly 100,000 people will be impacted by the dam.

Asia World Corporation came under attack earlier this month close to the site of another controversial dam in Burma’s northernmost Kachin state. Three bombs exploded inside the company’s compound close to the Myitsone dam, 18 miles north of the Kachin state capital, Myitkyina. Four Asia World employees were killed.

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