Car­di­nal wants dam project halted

Project will cause mas­sive en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion and neg­a­tively im­pact lo­cal peo­ple

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - John Zaw Cour­tesy of UCA News

Car­di­nal Charles Maung Bo of Yan­gon is urg­ing Myan­mar’s newly elected gov­ern­ment to halt the con­tro­ver­sial My­it­sone dam project in Kachin state, which is widely viewed as en­vi­ron­men­tally and cul­tur­ally de­struc­tive.

Car­di­nal Bo said Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy that won the Nov. 8 elec­tion, said be­fore the poll that a gov­ern­ment is elected by sup­port from the peo­ple.

“So if she really wants to ful­fill the de­sire of the peo­ple, she should try to end the project com­pletely. And she should fol­low the de­sire of the eth­nic Kachin peo­ple,” Car­di­nal Bo told ucanews.com.

The US$3.8 bil­lion dam is be­ing built on the Ir­rawaddy River, Myan­mar’s premier wa­ter­way for hy­dro elec­tric­ity that will be used al­most ex­clu­sively in neigh­bor­ing China, pro­vid­ing 6,000 megawatts of elec­tric­ity.

It will be the 15th largest hy­dro­elec­tric power sta­tion in the world if com­pleted as planned by 2017. It will be 1,310 me­ters long and 139.6 me­ters high.

By 2010, the dam’s con­struc­tion caused at least 2,000 peo­ple to be re­lo­cated from their an­ces­tral homes in Aung Myin Thar vil­lage.

The mil­i­tary-backed gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Thein Sein

sus­pended con­struc­tion in Septem­ber 2011, while China vig­or­ously agi­tated for recom­menc­ing work on the project

“The Ir­rawaddy is our mother and our life-blood river so end­ing the project is not only the will of eth­nic Kachins but also the peo­ple of Myan­mar,” Car­di­nal Bo said.

He promised to speak out on the is­sue “when I get a chance to meet with Suu Kyi per­son­ally.”

Car­di­nal Bo told ucanews.com dur­ing an in­ter­view at his res­i­dence in Yan­gon’s St. Mary’s Cathe­dral com­pound that he also raised con­cerns on an­other China-backed project — a cop­per mine in cen­tral Myan­mar — and ques­tioned the out­go­ing gov­ern­ment’s re­la­tion­ship with China and neigh­bor­ing In­dia.

“No mat­ter how (much) we need good re­la­tion­ships with neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as China, the Suu Kyi-led new gov­ern­ment should con­sider the will of the peo­ple in Myan­mar,” Car­di­nal Bo said.

He warned that an accident dur­ing the dam’s con­struc­tion could de­stroy sev­eral vil­lages, while en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion caused by the dam will largely im­pact lo­cal peo­ple.

In his pre-elec­tion 10-point guide about choos­ing can­di­dates, Car­di­nal Bo re­ferred to the dam project, en­cour­ag­ing vot­ers to choose can­di­dates and par­ties that “safe­guard the coun­try’s na­ture and nat­u­ral re­sources, pro­tect­ing our forests and not sell­ing our sa­cred rivers and re­sources to for­eign pow­ers.”

Khet Htain Nan, a Chris­tian law­maker from the Unity and Democ­racy Party in Kachin State, also said the new gov­ern­ment should not let the mas­sive dam project con­tinue as peo­ple and ex­perts have op­posed it.

“In a democ­racy, the gov­ern- ment should lis­ten to the voices of the peo­ple so a new gov­ern­ment also needs to lis­ten to the voices and de­sire of the peo­ple in Myan­mar,” Khet Htain Nan told ucanews.com.

Suu Kyi toured Kachin State prior to the elec­tions and dur­ing a meet­ing with Chris­tian lead­ers on Oct. 2 promised she would try to ad­dress the dam project, which re­mains un­pop­u­lar with many peo­ple in Kachin.

Crit­ics have long ac­cused Suu Kyi of dodg­ing a strong com­mit­ment to Myan­mar’s di­verse eth­nic groups that sur­round the more pop­u­lous cen­ter of the coun­try. In Kachin, crit­ics say, she and her party have failed to speak out about fight­ing in the state, which erupted in June 2011 fol­low­ing the break­down of a 17-year cease-fire be­tween Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary and Kachin rebels.

Pro­test­ers con­gre­gate at the site of the My­it­sone Dam. Photo: Mizzima

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