Energy investments 'at expense' of Burma population

July 29, 2009 (DVB), Civil society groups have criticised ASEAN's energy investments in Burma that only benefit neighbouring countries whilst leaving the majority of the Burmese population in the dark.

A joint statement released by three groups coincides with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministers for Energy Meeting which is underway in Burma's second city of Mandalay this week.

The Burma Rivers Network (BRN), the Shwe Gas Movement (SGM) and the Ethnic Community Development Forum (ECDF) in their statement addressed the lack of electricity being provided to the Burmese population.

The groups highlight that the electricity consumption rate of Burma is only 5 percent of that in Thailand yet the Burmese government continues to export energy to its energy hungry neighbours.

"Burma's military regime is steaming ahead with plans to export even more energy resources to its neighbors," said the statement.

"These include plans for over 20 large hydroelectric dams to power Thailand, China and ASEAN power grid, and trans-Burma oil and gas pipelines to China set to begin in September this year."

It is reported that exported gas from Burma's controversial Yadana and Yetagun fields' fuels 20 percent of Thailand's electricity needs while none fuels its own households.

The statement voices concerns that more energy investments will only increase human rights violations and make the population angrier at the lack of electricity.

"Energy projects in Burma should be for the benefit of Burmese people and not at their expense," the statement said.

Wong Aung, from the Shwe Gas Movement, said that the ASEAN energy meeting will only "further enrage" the Burmese population.

"The generals are pocketing huge amounts from the projects but we are left in the dark," he said.

Oilwatch Southeast Asia, a network of Southeast Asian environmental NGOs, has similarly expressed concern that previous projects have led to the loss of livelihood as fishing communities face fishing restrictions.

The organisation states that oil projects increase human rights abuses due to the presence of soldiers safeguarding the sites, who have reportedly used forced labour and forced relocation. Instances of rape by soldiers have also been reported.

"It's very important that the ASEAN Energy Ministers review their investment policies with Burma," Penchom Tang, spokesman of Oilwatch SEA said.

"They must wait for a democratically elected government so that investments are beneficial for the local people and the environment".

Reporting by Alex Ellgee

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