Dam forcibly displaces 15,000 Burmese

Aug 5, 2009 (DVB), The construction of the unfinished Tasang dam in eastern Burma has already forced around 15,000 people into refugee camps in neighbouring Thailand, according to a report released yesterday.

Upon completion, the Tasang dam on the Salween river in Shan state will be the largest in Southeast Asia, bigger than China's Three Gorges dam.

But 'Roots and Resilience', a report released by the Shan Sapawa Environment Organisation which focuses on the Kheng Kham community, documents the forced relocation of 15,000 civilians living near to the dam site.

Shan state is Burma's prime opium growing region and the site of often intense conflict, with factions of the ethnic Shan State Army fighting against the Burmese government.

"The dam is in a war zone and the Burmese military always suspect the villagers are part of an armed group," said Sai Sai, a spokesperson from Shan Sapawa Environment Organization. "So they are arrested, tortured, and many rape cases have been reported in the area."

The 7,110 megawatt Tasang dam is the biggest of five dams planned on the Salween river.

Last year the government announced that 28 dams were under construction, adding to the 12 that already exist. There are plans to build another 10.

Investors in the project include Thailand's MDX Company and China's Gezhouba Group Company.

The majority of the energy generated by the dam will be sold to Thailand, who recently reiterated its support for the project when it included it in its national Power Development Plan against the wish of human rights groups.

"We want to pressure the Thai government not to put the Taseng dam into Power development plan" said Sai Sai.

"If they are doing so then they are showing their support for the dam and for the human rights violations that are occurring as a result of the dam".

"If they go ahead with the dam 15,000 people will lose everything because their homes will be under the water."

According to environmental group International Rivers, between 40 and 60 million people worldwide have been displaced by hydropower projects.

Reporting by Alex Ellgee

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