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Myanmar's changing ties with China

Myanmar marchers seek cancellation of Chinese-backed dam project

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 4:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 8:23am

Dozens of protesters began a 2,400-kilometre march yesterday to northern Myanmar, calling for the cancellation of a Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam project over environmental concerns.

The US$3.6 billion dam along the Irrawaddy River was supposed to export about 90 per cent of the electric power it generated to neighbouring China, but President Thein Sein's government ordered it to be suspended in 2011, saying it went "against the will of the people".

Now, many in this nation of 60 million people - which only recently emerged from decades of military rule - worry that construction will resume after the 2015 general elections.

Waving banners calling for permanent cancellation of the Myitsone dam, about 60 people gathered early yesterday in a suburb of Yangon.

They will walk along the river, passing through towns and villages to raise awareness about the project, said Ye Htut Khaung, one of the organisers. He expected the march to Myitsone in Kachin state to take up to 70 days.

The vast majority of Myanmese do not have access to electricity. Environmental activists say the dam would displace countless villagers and upset the ecology of one of the country's most vital national resources, the Irrawaddy River. It would also submerge a culturally important site in the ethnic Kachin heartland, where the Malikha and Maykha rivers meet.

"Everyone knows the natural surroundings of Myitsone can be destroyed, but they keep doing the project anyway," said Ma Phyu Phyu, one of the marchers.

The project by the China Power Investment would be Myanmar's largest dam by far.