Plea to stop supporting Salween dam projects

Representatives of ethnic groups in Burma have urged the Thai government to stop supporting dams and other development projects on the Salween river on the Thai-Burmese border.

They said the projects would lead to an intensification of Burma's military action to dislocate them and take control of their land.

Two organisations, Karen River Watch and Salween Watch, claim to represent ethnic groups who have been campaigning against the building of large hydro power projects on the Salween.

They said the Burmese military had already moved minority people from their land to stop them giving support to armed ethnic groups. They said army activity was likely to intensify as more military troops would be deployed to move villagers for security reasons.

One of the groups' representatives who went by the name Htoo Klei cited a recent incident in which people in Papun district in a Karen area were moved from their land and had since lived in hardship after troops wanted to build a road to link the Wei Gyi and Dagwin dams near the district close to the border with Thailand's Mae Hong Son province. He said the dams got ''support'' from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. Feasibility studies of the dam projects are ongoing.

Another representative calling himself Sai Sai claimed the 3,300-megawatt Tasang dam in Shan State has caused similar hardship among Shan people.

The Burmese minorities made their appeal during the launch of a book in English called ''The Salween Under Threat, Damming the Longest Free River in Southeast Asia'' published in collaboration with Southeast Asia Rivers Network, and the Centre for Social Development Studies of Chulalongkorn University. The book talks about the dams and their impact.