Salween Watch

Nong Pha Dam

Located in Shan State, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to develop the Nong Pha Dam dam project was signed during the trip of Chinese Vice President (and now President), Mr. Xi Jinping, to Burma in 2010. Only limited information about the project has been released and access to the project site is very difficult.

The Nong Pha Dam is a joint venture between the Burmese government, Burma’s International Group of Entrepreneurs (IGE) and Hydrochina Corporation with 15% of the shares being held by the Burmese government and the remaining 85% by the two corporations. The Nong Pha Dam will have an installed capacity of 1,200 MW, 90% of the power generated will be sold to China.

The dam is planned on a stretch of the Salween where various armed groups operate. Territory east of the river is controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA). In recent months, the Burma Army has been deploying troops and launching attacks against the Shan State Army-North, which controls territories south-west of the dam site.

Tasang Dam

Known by various names including the Mai Tong, the name of the township (Mong Ton) in which the dam is located in Shan State, the project is a joint-investment of EGAT International Co., Ltd. (EGAT’s subsidiary), China Three Gorges Project Corporation and Sinohydro (also known as Power China). According to EGAT, Tasang’s installed capacity will be 7,110 MW.
EGAT International Co will hold 56.5% of the shares and plans to invest US$12 billion in the project.

Under a massive scorched earth campaign by the Burma Army starting in 1996, over 300,000 people have been forcibly relocated from their lands in southern Shan State, including from areas around the planned Tasang project site. In December 2013, SHRF reported that residents in areas slated to be flooded by the Tasang Dam were forced to work for Burma Army troops providing security for teak logging in the potential reservoir area. It was reported that four Burma Army
battalions had forced villagers in nine villages in Murng Pu Long township to lead the way during army patrols and to build and repair military barracks and roads. In addition, the troops extorted food and money from the local villagers. As a result of these serious abuses, there has been an ongoing influx of refugees into Thailand from Shan State.

A 40-year-old man who had run away from Murng Pu Long to a border town in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province said that his family had arrived there in 2013 as they could not bear being forced to work as porters of the Burma Army. Some villagers had almost stepped on landmines. “Forced to work (for the Burma Army), sometimes we had to work ten days and live off our own food. We could not do our own work. We had to carry heavy loads, and sometimes, we were barely able to walk.”

There are ongoing armed conflicts near the project site. In November 2013, clashes between the Shan State Army-South and the Burma Army took place near Ta Sob Bu on the Salween River.

Ywathit Dam

Located just north of the confluence of the Pai River and the Salween River in Kayah State (Karenni), the Ywathit Dam is being built and financed by Datang from China. A MoU to develop the project with the government of Burma was signed in 2010. According to the MoU, the dam’s installed capacity would be 600 MW, but in March 2013, Datang’s website reported
that the project’s installed capacity could be as high as 4,500 MW.

According to Karenni environmental groups, extensive logging concessions have been granted in the area around the Ywathit project site. Road access from Loikaw, Karenni State’s capital, to Bawlake and Ywathit has also been developed.

Villagers from the area around the Ywathit project site have been fleeing from armed conflict for more than a decade. Most have ended up as refugees along the Thai border, particularly in Mae Hong Son. However, according to the latest information, some villagers still live around the project site as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Karenni State has already suffered from the impacts of the Mobye Dam and Lawpita hydropower project for over three decades. The fourth largest hydropower plant in Burma, the Lawpita Project, uprooted more than 12,000 people. Thousands of troops from the Burma Army were deployed to provide safety to the plant, giving rise to numerous human rights abuses by the Burmese troops including sexual violence, killing, forced labor, etc. More than 18,000 mines have been planted around the plant and along the route of the transmission lines.

Since 2010, surveying work for the Ywathit Dam in preparation for construction has been conducted jointly by a Chinese and Burmese team. It was reported in December 2010 that a survey team was ambushed by Karenni resistance troops near Pruso, leading to the deaths of three Chinese engineers.

In 2011, new military camps for Border Guard Force No. 1005 and special security troops were established to protect the Chinese dam builders. Also, the Burma Army Tactical Commander under No. 55 Regional Command based in Bawlake has been visiting the Ywathit area to monitor and strengthen security for the dam building team.

The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) reached a 14-point ceasefire agreement with the Burma Army in 2012. This agreement stated: “to ensure transparency around planned mega-projects (including the Ywathit Hydropower Project), both parties agree to provide information to the public and to allow the local people and community-based organizations to seek information.” However, when local environmental groups tried to collect information from the area, their access to the dam site has been blocked.

The Karenni Civil Society Network reported in March 2014 that no new preparations for the dam construction have been observed. However, Burma Army troops still have a heavy presence in the area. In the middle of 2013, the government informed the Karenni National Progressive Party’s forces that they wanted to build a road to link the Burmese military strategic command in Shadaw, in northern Karenni State, to Ywathit.

Despite the ceasefire agreement signed with the KNPP, the Burma Army continues to conduct military training exercises in the area. In January 2014, 1,000 Burmese troops joined training exercises, including firing mortars which caused deaths of livestock and scared villagers, who did not dare work in their fields.

The Karenni Civil Society Network also reported that government officials have been trying to promote dams on the Salween among affected villagers. On 18 October 2013. U Chit La, the Karenni State Minister of Transport and Saw Hu Hu, Karenni State Minister of Electrict Power and Industry organized a public hearing at Pasaung township to inform local people that after the completion of a new 700 MW dam on the Salween, the villagers would get electricity. North of the dam site, logging is being undertaken by two companies, Kayah Htanee and Ashe Thanlwin, which are linked to local armed forces.