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FORCED RELOCATIONS AND THE TA SANG DAM

FORCED RELOCATIONS AND THE TA SANG DAM

FORCED RELOCATIONS AND THE TA SANG DAM

 

If the planned Ta Sang dam in Shan State, Burma is built, it will have devastating social and environmental impacts.  Like other large dams, the project will displace a large number of people, most likely using force, a violation of human rights norms and the people's fundamental rights. It will take place in a militarized zone of central Shan State, near where over 300,000 villagers have already been forcibly displaced since 1996 and even more people will have to move if the project proceeds.  The proposed benefits of the dam include energy production for Thailand and income for Burma, but Thailand does not need the energy, and more money for the Burmese junta means only more oppression.  The military generals will further subdue the  populace, increase their military presence in an area where resistance has been difficult to stamp out, and gain control of a valuable, resource-rich area.  Since the Burmese military will most likely be partners in the project, the companies investing with them should be held responsible for the human rights abuses which result from the Ta Sang dam.

Overview of the planned dam

 

The Salween River is the longest free-flowing river in Southeast Asia.  It originates in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet, flows through Yunnan Province of China then cuts through Shan State and Karenni (Kayah) State in Burma.  In the southern section of Mae Hong Son province, it forms the border between Thailand and Burma before flowing back into Karen State then through Mon State in Burma, where it empties into the Andaman Sea at Moulemein.  The Salween is 2,400 kilometres long, the 26th longest river in the world, and the last major undamed river in Southeast Asia.

 

Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Power Public Co. Ltd. of Thailand, a subsidiary of MDX Group, has contracted to do the pre-construction studies.  Lahmeyer International, a German consulting company, and the Economic Power Development Corporation (EPDC) of Japan have carried out the pre-feasibility and feasibility studies, respectively.  According to the studies, the dam will be used to provide energy to Thailand.  NGO's have not uncovered any plan linking the Ta Sang Dam to the Salween water diversion scheme, but it also possible that the project will be used to bring water to Thailand, as there is a greater need for water than for electricity.

 

At a cost of at least US$ 3 billion, the Ta Sang Dam is planned to be located near the Ta Sang crossing between Murng Pan and Murng Ton in southern Shan State, 80 kilometres from the Thai border.  With a projected installed capacity of 3,300 MW,  the concrete-faced rockfill dam would be 188 meters high with a reservoir that would flood an area of at least 640 square kilometers, storing approximately one-third of the Salween River's average annual flow

Forced Relocations in Shan State

 

Since 1996, the Burmese military junta (previously the State Law and Order Restoration Council - SLORC; since November, 1997 the State Peace and Development Council - SPDC) has carried out a massive forced relocation program in central Shan State.  The forced relocations are part of a policy to suppress any form of resistance through "four-cuts" -- denying food, funding, intelligence, and recruits to any resistance groups.  The Karen Human Rights Group, which has done extensive documentation of human rights abuses in Burma, sums up the "Four-Cuts" policy:

 

"The policy involves identifying regions of potential armed or unarmed resistance, and systematically uprooting and impoverishing the civilian populations in these areas so that there is no way they can provide material support to any opposition groups.  Direct attacks on the civilian population, characterised by mass forced relocations, destruction of villages and the village economy, and completely unsustainable levels of forced labour, have now become the central pillar of SPDC policy in non-Burman rural areas of Burma.  In the past, the regime would strategically destroy 2 or 3 villages at a time when there was resistance.  Now when they perceive a possibility of resistance, they delineate the entire geographic region and forcibly relocate and destroy every village there is, as many as hundreds of villages at a time.  In many cases, these villages have had little or no contact with resistance forces and do not even understand why they are being targeted.

These forced relocations have resulted in a 7,000 square mile area in Shan State where the military has placed a majority of the population -- 1,400 villages -- under its control in relocation sites.  Some villagers escaped to stay with family in other areas of Shan state.  Over 100,000 have fled to Thailand, and many are trying to survive by hiding near their villages or in the jungle. [iv]

 

Conditions inside relocation sites are grim.  The SPDC provides very few or no supplies or services for those who are relocated.  Many people are seriously malnourished and cannot return to their villages to farm for fear of being shot.  Lack of food and unsanitary conditions are causing death for many.  Forcibly relocated villagers live under total military control, so they become convenient targets for forced labor.  They are frequently conscripted to carry supplies and equipment for military battalions and must do forced labor on infrastructure projects.

 

Like most displaced people, those forcibly relocated in Shan State wish to return to their villages and reunite with their families.  Though peace in Shan State does not look likely in the very near future, many still hold out hope for an end to the military campaign and their return to their villages.  The Ta Sang dam will make many of these forcible relocations irreversible. 

Forced Relocations and the Ta Sang Dam - The Connection

 

Infrastructure projects such as dams should be carried out only after consultation with affected populations. [v]   In Burma, public participation in such a decision-making process is impossible due to the climate of fear and the severe repression of the population.  With much of the affected population already forcibly relocated and the regime's repression against all who speak out, the possibility for consultation on the Ta Sang dam presses the bounds of reason.

 

The Burmese military's forced relocation campaigns fill multiple needs for the regime.  Villagers are easier to control, which supports their four-cuts campaign.  Natural resources are also easier to exploit.  According to Shan sources, the regime has been granting logging concessions in the Murng Pu Long area, where villagers have been forcibly relocated since 1997. [vi] Villagers also become a ready source of labor; some relocation sites are virtual slave camps, as people are used to build roads, work in gem mines, or anything else that suits the army and earns them money.

 

The interconnection between forced relocations, forced labor, and infrastructure projects in Burma has prompted increasing criticism from the international community.   In its recent report on Burma, The U.S. Department of Labor points out that "forced relocations are becoming a growing problem in Burma, and forced labor often goes hand in hand with the policy of forced relocations." [vii]   In its 1998 report on forced labor in Burma, the International Labour Organization reported on a wide range of infrastructure projects that used forced labor, including a dam in Shan State:

 

Forced labour was used to construct dams and other work for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation. This work included dams in Bago Division and Rakhine State, dams and irrigation projects in Sagaing Division, a major dam project in Shan State, [footnote: The Nam Wok (Mong Kwan) dam project near Kengtung, completed in 1994] a dam in Tanintharyi Division and a canal in Yangon Division.  Most of these projects were major, involving hundreds or even thousands of labourers.[viii]

 

The Burmese regime's dismal record of forced labor resulted in the ILO taking the unprecedented step of excluding the SPDC from any ILO activities except those that lead to adherence to the ILO's recommendations to end forced labor, and later calling on the International Labour Conference to take "take such action as it may deem wise and expedient to secure compliance" by the Burmese regime with the ILO recommendations, a move that could result in an appeal to ILO member States to pressure the regime to end forced labor. [ix]

 

Some of the forced relocations in Shan State would make room for the Ta Sang Dam and its reservoir.  Whether the relocations were originally intended for this purpose or not, the investors and builders cannot dismiss them as unrelated to their project.  The SPDC carries out these human rights abuses with impunity, and the companies working in cooperation with them should not be able to knowingly benefit from such abuses.  Indeed, companies that finance or work in partnership with the regime can and should be held accountable for human rights abuses related directly or indirectly to their projects. If the Ta Sang dam plans go forward, there will most likely be more forced relocations, forced labor, and violence including extrajudicial killings, rape and torture. 

 

Any company coming into the area of central Shan State to operate by taking advantage of the clearing of the villages is also implicated in the abuses already committed there.  Companies operating in Burma, and particularly in an area of such severe repression, are accomplices to the crimes against humanity committed by the military regime.  If the business community shuns the SPDC, the flow of money that keeps the military regime in power will decrease, as will the motivation for clearing areas for foreign investment projects that generate money for the military.

 

Many Shan people are organizing to resist the building of the dam, as are other communities of ethnic communities downstream.  The Ta Sang dam is not yet a fait accompli, and the thousands of forcibly relocated villagers may still have reason to hope that they will one day be able to return to rebuild their homes and communities in the natural splendor along the untamed Salween River.

 

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