The Burmese government’s campaign to rout armed ethnic groups along its northern border has at its heart the goal of securing areas around lucrative China-backed hydropower projects, environmental groups claim.
Two of the main flashpoints over the past week are in southern in Kachin state, where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controls territory close to the Shweli and Taping dams. The KIA recently ended a 17-year ceasefire with the Burmese government, sparking heavy fighting on 9 June.
Nine dams financed by Chinese companies are being constructed in Burma’s northernmost Kachin state, according to Burma Rivers Network. It said that the Taping fighting follows a warning letter from the KIA that if construction of the controversial Myitsone Dam in Kachin state proceeds, civil war will break out.
“Mega dams in Burma have severe negative social, economic and environmental impacts while the majority of electricity generated is exported to neighbouring countries or used by the military,” said BRN. “Most of the dams are located in ethnic states and allow the expansion of Burma Army control into these areas.”
The KIA has destroyed several roads and bridges close to hydropower sites, which are deeply unpopular amongst many civilians who are often the victims of forced relocations but who see little reward from the ventures.
Burma’s relationship with China to an extent hinges on these energy projects, thus necessitating the need for the Burmese army to secure territory surrounding them.
Fighting has escalated in Kachin, Shan and Karen states since late last year following the refusal of armed groups to assimilate into the Burmese army.
In March, central Shan state witnessed several clashes between Burmese troops and the Shan State Army, whose northern faction also recently ended a 15-year truce with the government. The epicentre of the fighting was close to the town of Hsipaw, where the highly lucrative Shwe gas pipeline will run through en route to China.
Burmese army reinforcements were also sent to the site of the Ywathit Dam in Karenni state, which is being built by China’s Datang company. In December last year the Karenni Army, one of the myriad ethnic armed groups operating in Burma’s border regions, attacked a convoy of trucks transporting equipment to the dam, BRN said.