RANGOON — Thousands of protesters are expected to join a march from Rangoon to the site of the proposed Myitsone dam in Kachin State, calling for the Burma government to permanently cancel the project.
The highly controversial Chinese-backed hydropower development was in 2011 suspended by President Thein Sein, who pledged that work would not resume during his time in office. But with his administration coming to an end next year, and with pressure from China to resume the widely opposed project, activists want it scrapped completely.
“We have seen moves by Chinese investors to restart the project, so we arrange a public march at this time,” said Ye Htut Khaung, spokesperson of the League of Former Political Prisoners, the group organizing the march. The state-owned developer, China Power Investment, has publicly called for the project—from which the vast majority of power produced will go the China—to be resumed.
The march will leave from Rangoon on Sunday and conclude at the dam site in Tan Phae village, Kachin State—the confluence of the Maykha and Malikha rivers—said Ye Htut Khaung.
He said former political prisoners, activists from civil society organizations and locals along the way would join the march. It is expected to take about 60 days to walk the 1,500 mile journey, a trip that would take three days by car.
“This will be the biggest march against the Myitsone dam,” he said, adding that around 5,000 people in total would join some part of the march.
The marchers will stop at towns and villages along the Irrawaddy River and give public talks to raise public awareness about the environmental and social impacts that the dam would cause, he said.
Maung Maung Oo, a member of the Mandalay-based environmental group Green Activities, told to The Irrawaddy that whether the dam is constructed or not, environmental damage to areas along the river had already begun. He cited recent deforestation, erosion of the riverbed and reduced fish stocks due to industrial development on the river.
“Even though the dam is still not there, the destruction of the river is terrible. If there’s a dam, the situation would be a lot worse than now, because the dam would reduce the flow of the water,” he said.
“The Myitsone project must be totally stopped. If the project resumes, the environment in the Myitsone area and along the Irrawaddy River would be at risk” said U Ohn, vice president of the Rangoon-based Forest Resource Environment Development and Conservation Association.