Myanmar suspends dam project after rare outcry

Myanmar suspends dam project after rare outcry

Myanmar’s new army-backed government has suspended a controversial $3.6 billion hydroelectric power project following rare public opposition, a govt official.

By (Agencies)

Published: Fri 30 Sep 2011, 11:58 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:08 AM

YANGON - Myanmar’s government will suspend a $3.6 billion, Chinese-led dam project, President Thein Sein told parliament on Friday, according to officials, in an apparent victory for supporters of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Myitsone dam, Myanmar’s largest hydropower project, had sparked rare public criticism in the authoritarian country. It was backed by hardliners with ties to Chinese investors and opposed by an increasingly vocal band of reformers.

Suu Kyi had said the dam threatened the flow of the powerful Irrawaddy River and she warned that 12,000 people from 63 villages would have to be moved to make way for it. Many other sectors of society had also voiced opposition.

The president “said that his government, being born out of people’s desire, has to act according to the desire of the people,” said an official in parliament who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The will of the people was seldom considered under the military regimes that made Myanmar one of Asia’s most reclusive and repressive countries for almost 50 years.

The statement is one of many signs of change since the army nominally handed over power in March to civilians after the first elections in two decades last year, a process ridiculed at the time as a sham to cement authoritarian rule under a democratic facade. Recent overtures by the government hint at possibly deeper changes at work — from calls for peace with ethnic minority guerrilla groups to some tolerance of criticism and more communication with Nobel peace prize laureate Suu Kyi.

National Symbol

The Irrawaddy is seen as a national symbol by many Burmese, flowing from Kachin state in the north through at least half of the length of the country until hitting the Andaman sea in the south, a lifeline for millions in a region that a half-century ago was the heart of the world’s biggest rice exporter.

Construction of the dam “will be shelved” during the prsident’s five-year term, the official told Reuters.

An official at the Chinese company investing in the project, China Power Investment Corp, declined comment. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official said he needed to look into the matter.

In recent years, Myanmar’s leaders have embraced investment from China as a deep and lucrative market for the former British colony’s vast energy-related resouces and to counterbalance the impact of Western sanctions imposed in response to human rights abuses.

The dam, at about 152 metres long and 152 metres high, would have flooded an area about the size of Singapore, creating a 766 sq km reservoir with a depth of 290 meters. It was several years from completion.

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