By Thu Thu Aung
Salween River, Myanmar, June 14, 2016
Another civil society group has joined the mounting campaign against dams planned along the Thanlwin River, also known as the Salween, ahead of an upcoming energy meeting between Thailand and Myanmar.
A statement by the Network of People in Salween Basin was released after the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Electric Power revealed that the bilateral meeting would be taking place on June 10.
The local network called on the state counsellor, who is set to visit Thailand from June 23 to 25, to consider “the importance of the Thanlwin River as the home of ethnic minority peoples and as an invaluable source of biodiversity and natural resources”.
The network also demanded the suspension of any dams until communities have been consulted.
Its criticism focuses mainly on the 7110 megawatt Mong Ton dam, the largest of six proposed dams that would be built in Shan, Kayin and Kayah states by companies from China, Thailand and Myanmar. Most of its power will go to neighbouring China and Thailand, with only 10 percent reserved for domestic use.
More than 300,000 people live in the area that would be affected by the dam, though many have fled conflict or forced relocation and now live in Thailand, waiting to return.
“Construction of the dam in the area would permanently inundate the lands of this displaced population, leaving many landless and stateless,” read the statement. The Mong Ton Dam would be located only 70 kilometres from the border district Chiang Dao in Chiang Mai province.
Continuing with the projects at a time of peace-building would be an “opportunistic and exploitative act”, according to the network.
Lieutenant General Yawd Serk, chair of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), agreed with the group’s statement.
“Without the people’s consent, none of the projects should be continued. Natural resources aren’t any government’s or organisation’s property. They belong to the people,” he said.
Local residents have spray-painted graffiti along the banks of the river reading “The Salween is not for sale”. A group of 122 local civil society organisations launched a “Save the Salween” campaign in July 2015.