Thirteen activists in central Burma’s Pegu swam across the Irrawaddy River in a demonstration calling for the complete suspension of the Myitsone hydroelectric dam project.
The activists swam from the river’s east bank in Prome, officially known as Pyay, to the other side and back again – taking them about 45 minutes to complete.
“Ensuring long-term survival of the Irrawaddy River is a national duty for all people in Burma, and as citizens who know their national duty we are swimming across the river to highlight our responsible spirit,” said one of the swimmers.
The protestors are part of a group called the Irrawaddy Enthusiasts’ Network and are concerned that if operations resume at the Myitsone hydropower dam, irreparable damage to the river could be caused, as well as widespread flooding and deforestation.
Apart from the fact the Irrawaddy River is the source of livelihood to millions of people, it also holds symbolic importance to Burmese.
DVB caught up with another activist in mid-swim: “The Irrawaddy River has always flowed and no one will be able to stop that – it will keep treading its way somehow. The Irrawaddy Enthusiasts Network would like to highlight this initiative to remind people,” he said.
Following public outcry, operations at the Myitsone mega-dam were halted by Thein Sein’s government in 2011, but the Chinese backers are keen for the project to resume.
Several of the swimmers, including organiser Kyaw Swe, were prosecuted in 2013 under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, for protesting against the dam without permission.
Though the demonstration was watched by the police, Kyaw Swe insisted they should not be charged this time, as they were not marching to voice their demands – but swimming.