Villagers and Civil Society Petition Thailand PM and EGAT: Demand “Protect Human Rights in Burma – Cancel the Hutgyi Dam”

[Bangkok, Thailand] – Community representatives from villages whose lives will be affected by the proposed 1,360 megawatt Hatgyi Dam on the Salween River in Burma, accompanied by civil society and youth groups, will gather in front of Government House on Monday, November 23 at 10.00am, to deliver a petition signed by 189 organisations to H.E. Abhisit Vejjajeva, Prime Minster of Thailand calling on him to halt plans for the project.

The Hatgyi dam has been prepared behind closed doors and is strongly backed by Thailand’s electricity utility, EGAT. The proposed dam would sell its electricity to Thailand and is a joint venture between EGAT International, the Chinese power giant Sinohydro Cooperation, and Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power. As EGAT is so firmly committed to the project, there is a growing urgency that H.E. Abhisit Vejjajeya clearly instructs EGAT to cancel the dam.

Key concerns raised in the petition include:

· Whilst the dam itself is located within Burma, 47 kilometers from the Thai-Burma border, its reservoir would extend for tens of kilometers upstream, flooding a large part of Burma’s Karen state, as well as areas of Sob Moei district, Maehongsorn province, Thailand. As the official border demarcation, formed by the current river location, is yet to be determined, the project threatens to violate Article 190 of Thailand’s Constitution and potentially create border tensions.

· The Hatgyi dam is located in an area where the Burmese junta’s military has, over many decades, been waging a civil war against local ethnic people. If the project is approved, it will further exacerbate the already dire human rights situation in the area. In June 2009, Thailand’s National Human Right Commission recommended to the government to order EGAT to halt the Hutgyi dam plan, stating “the dam construction will contribute to human rights abuses against the Karen ethnic population in Burma, and Thailand has to bear the burden of taking care of these people who seek their refuge in the country”.

· By blocking the mainstream of the Salween River, mainland Southeast Asia’s only remaining major free-flowing river, the Hatgyi dam will obstruct fish migrations and wipe out riverbank agriculture in both countries, at a severe cost to the livelihoods and food security of thousands of people living along the river in both Burma and Thailand
· EGAT has failed to release substantial information about the Hutgyi dam to the general public and people who will be affected by the project, including about its environmental impacts in breach of Articles of 56 and 67 of Thailand’s Constitution.

“Dam construction in a war zone in an undemocratic country such as Burma starkly contradicts the claim of EGAT that the dam will guarantee energy security for Thailand” said Montree Chantavong, Chair of Thailand’s northern NGO Coordinating Committee and campaigner of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA). “Dams on the Salween River will simply add to the myriad of problems already faced in Burma, and impede the development of already viable sustainable energy alternatives in Thailand” he added.

“Villagers have never known anything about the dam. I have seen in the city the big buildings with so much lighting, so much air conditioning. They consume electricity so much so that they have to come and build dams in our home”, said Nu Chamnarnkiriprai, a Karen community representative who lives along the Salween in Mae Hong Son.

In light of the elections proposed in Burma in 2010, there has been growing international attention towards Burma, including from the US which sent a mission to Burma earlier this month. Thailand’s support for the Hatgyi dam project could undermine calls amongst the international community on the need for a transition to democracy and free and fair elections in Burma.

Civil society groups believe that EGAT is now pushing the government hard to endorse the plan, despite the fact that the proposed Salween dams have been heavily criticized by civil society groups globally. In 2006, for example, three thousand signatures calling for a halt to these projects were collected and sent to Thai government. Furthermore, around the world, numerous protests have taken place in front of Burmese embassies uniting environmental and human rights groups against the Hat Gyi dam.

Media Invitation

At 10:00am on Monday, November 23, villagers and civil society groups will gather in front of Government House, Bangkok to deliver the petition letter to H.E. Abhisit Vejjajeva, Prime Minster of Thailand. A press conference will also be held.

At 14.00pm on Monday 23 November, civil society groups will submit the petition letter to Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree, the Thai representative in and the Chair of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) at Royal River Hotel, Charansanitwong Road.

Media are welcome to join both events

Press conference speakers:

Tuenjai Deetes Advisor, Hill Area and Community Development Foundation
Pirote Panapraisakul Village person, Ban Ta Tafang, Mae Sam Laeb sub-district, Mae Hong Son province

Montree Chantawong Chair, Thailand’s Northern NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD North)/ Campaigner of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA)
Harnnarong Yaowalert Director, of Integrated Water Management Foundation

Pianporn Deetes Coordinator, Living River Siam -Southeast Asia Rivers Network (SEARIN)
Panithida Pongpaew Coordinator,Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)

For more information, please contact:

Montree Chantavong Thailand’s Northern NGO Coordinating committee Tel: +66 (0)81-9500560
E-mail:
Pianporn Deetes Living River Siam (SEARIN) http://www.livingriversiam.org Tel: +66 (0) 81-4200111 E-mail
Premrudee Daoroung Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) http://www.terraper.org Tel: +66 (0)81-4342334
E-mail: premrudee@terraper.org>

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