Hundreds of Shan farmers protest Upper Yeywa dam
MORE than 1500 farmers from 19 townships gathered on the banks of the Namtu River in Thibaw/Hsipaw township, Shan State to call for the cancellation of the Upper Yeywa dam on November 27. It was the third such protest of 2016.
The hydropower project, located in Kyaukme township to the south, is one of four new dams planned for the Namtu River. It is slated for completion in 2018.
Sai Thum Ai, a spokesperson for the Shan State Farmers Network, which organised the protest, said the farmers are renewing their calls for an immediate cancellation of the dam because of the active nearby fighting between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups.
“Control of natural resources is a root cause of the conflict in Burma. If the government proceeds with new dams on the Namtu River against the wishes of local communities, this will only fuel the fighting in northern Shan State,” he said in a statement released yesterday.
According to the statement, the Yeywa dam, which is being built by Chinese, Swiss, German and Japanese firms, will create a 60-kilometre-long (37-mile) reservoir, flooding Hsipaw township and submerging the homes and lands of about 650 Talong villagers. They urged the companies to halt construction.
Similar protests against the project were staged in March and September.
In September, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy state MPs Nang San San Aye (SNLD; Hsipaw 1) and Nang Khin Htar Yee (SNLD; Theinni 1) raised issues about transparency, accountability and responsibility regarding controversial dam projects in Shan State. The lawmakers called for clarification on the dams’ possible impacts.
“The answer we got back is so unclear,” said Sai Thun Ai. “They say that the government will take care of the locals but they do not say how or when.”
Sai Thun Ai pointed out that the Shan State Hluttaw did not have any control over the projects.
“Our SNLD candidate asked questions about the projects,” he said. “They could not give a clear answer. The Union government controls every project.”
The Shan State Farmers Network also sent an open letter to State Counsellor Daw Aung San Su Kyi and the government, calling for the dam’s cancellation.
“We did not get any response from the government,” said network spokesperson Nang Lao Kham.
Tatmadaw troops regularly patrol Talong village. They are posted on a hilltop overlooking the dam site, but they are causing fear among local residents, the network’s statement said. In October, 2000 villagers fled their homes just 20 kilometres east of Talong village after an attack by the Tatmadaw.
The Shan State Farmers Network is also demanding a reduction in the Union government’s power over state resources. They want locals to have a right to own their resources in their ethnic state.
Civil society organisations are demanding that the Yeywa project be halted at least until a countrywide peace deal is worked out.
When asked about the status of hydropower projects slated for Shan State, State Minister for Electric Power, Energy and Construction U Zarni Aung told The Myanmar Times, “Some projects have started running and some are still being tested.”
Farmers protest the proposed Upper Yeywa hydropower dam in Shan State’s Hsipaw township yesterday.