Burmese government officials, including Minister of Electric Power-1 ex- Col Zaw Min, are scheduled to hold a workshop to assess hydropower projects with scholars, researchers and NGO staffers in Naypyidaw on Saturday amid criticism and protests against the controversial Myitsone hydropower project, which is financed by China.
Ahead the workshop, Zaw Min vowed to go on the Myitsone Dam at the source of the Irrawaddy River.
“We will go on with the project. We will never go back,” Zaw Min told reporters in Naypyidaw on Sept.10.
He rejected any international involvement in the issue, saying: “The issue is not related to the UN, but our country. Getting electric power is in our national interest. We will resolve other issues later.”
Zaw Min is described by observers as one of the former junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s right-hand men. Former intelligence officers, including Aung Lynn Htut , a counter intelligence officer and Burma’s former deputy chief of mission to Washington, alleged that he was involved in the summary executions of more than 80 civilians, including children and women, on Christie Island, southern Burma, in 1998.
Other parties such as Information and Culture Minister ex Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan and Minister of Industrial Development, as well as Border Affairs Minister, Lt-Gen Thein Htay, have been defending the Myitsone projects at press conference and parliamentary secessions.
“Myitsone is a important energy project for the economic development of the State as it will be able to generate about 18,000 MW,” Thein Htay said in parliament on Wednesday, adding that the project is equal to “about 20 nuclear reactors.”
The first official MoU between Zaw Min’s Ministry of Electric Power-1 and the state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) was signed in December 2006 and included provisions for AsiaWorld Co Ltd, owned by Steven Law, also known as Tun Myint Naing, one of the US-sanctioned cronies and son of Lo Hsing Han, a well-known drug lord.
Burma and China again signed an agreement on Myitsone and its six sister dams projects in December 2009 during Chinese Vice-president Xi Jinping’s visit to the country, including a plan to upgrade Myitsone's capacity from 3600 MW to 6000 MW.
Previously the project was scheduled to be operational by 2017. However, a new timetable lists the opening for 2018.
According to a CPI press release in June: “With a total installed capacity of 6,000 MW, Myitsone Hydropower Station (8×750MW) is a cascade hydropower station with the largest installed capacity in the upstream of Ayeyarwady [Irrawaddy] River and is expected to start operation in 2018.”
Myitsone is CPI’s largest hydropower projects ahead of the Jishixia Hydropower Project and Chipi Hydropower Project in China.
After signing with Burma, the CPI assigned a Burmese NGO, the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) to conduct an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report in October 2009, just a few months before the upgrading of the project.
The report warned that the dam runs great risks due to its location less than 100 km from the Sagaing earthquake fault line, as well as affecting deforestation and the erosion of lands. The EIA said the dam would not cope with major floods which would inundate the Kachin capital of Myitkyina.
The report recommended two smaller dams north of the current site. However, both Burmese and Chinese stakeholders in the project ignored the EIA report and its recommendations. CPI reportedly forced researchers to remain silent on the issue.
Although the EIA report was kept confidential for two years, it was leaked to scholars, researchers and environment activists in recent months, reportedly by Chinese scholars who disagree with the project.
Concerned Burmese intellectuals and activists have launched some civic activities such as distributing information about the projects, holding public talks, and sending petitions to President Thein Sein.
“Save the Irrawaddy” campaigners have said that one of major concerns regarding the project is the danger to the Irrawaddy River, which is the main artery of Burma's civilization, economy and ecosystem as it flows through the heart of the country, serving millions of livelihoods, from Kachin State to the Indian Ocean.
"Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) is the National Heritage of all national people,.” said Than Htut Aung, the CEO of Eleven Media Group. “We have a responsibility to protect our national interest. We must steer clear of untoward accidents and problems that will otherwise arise in the future.”