British firm attacked over Burma dams: the Observer

Above (top) the Salween river basin as it passes through Karen State in Southeastern Burma; and above (below) a group of demonstrators protest against the Ta Sang project in Shan State.

Here's my latest venture into the world of hackery at the Observer:
The British construction company that helped to build two dams in Burma has been condemned by human rights campaigners amid reports that the projects led to the forced relocation of villagers.
Malcolm Dunstan and Associates, a Devon-based family-run firm, has been involved in concrete construction on the Yeywa dam in central Burma and the Ta Sang project on the Salween river in the north-east of the country. The projects, which will generate electricity for Thailand and China, have been targeted by human rights activists after reports that thousands of villagers had been removed from floodplains and opposition ruthlessly crushed.

A bit of background:

Malcolm Dunstan and Associates (MD&A) is involved in a “joint venture” with the Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise, Thailand's MDX group, and several Chinese firms operating inside a country Amnesty International has called “a prison without bars”.

MD&A have been working on the Ta Sang project in central Shan State in north-east Burma, but the consortium has faced difficulties commencing construction since the “opening ceremony” in 2007 as the site is located in the heart of an area beset by an insurgency that has been waged for over 40 years.

The ruling military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), aim to build five hydropower dams on the Salween River as part of an Asean plan to create a single energy grid for Southeast Asia, along with backing from the Asian Development Bank.

The Salween stretches from its heights on the Tibetan plateau in the north, where it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along the border with Thailand to the Andaman Sea in the south.

It is the longest free-flowing river left in South-east Asia and a haven for rare flora and fauna.

The 7,110 MW Tasang Dam is the biggest of the five dams planned for the Salween River.

It will flood an area containing over 100 villages, however, only about 3,000 villagers remain after the army’s ‘scorched earth’ policy of the late 1990s drove many into hiding.

The campaign of terror continues to claim victims and thousands spill across the borders into China and Thailand every year.

In less than three years, from 1996 to 1998, the army and their militias forcibly relocated more than 300,000 people from their villages in the hills into easily-controllable areas surrounded by landmines.

Rather than move to 'relocation villages', a euphemism for slave-labour-camps, many fled into the jungles or to Thailand. Initial surveys for Tasang began in earnest soon after.

Most of the electricity generated from the Salween dams will go to Thailand and most of the profits reaped by the regime into the coffers of the generals in Naypyidaw – the SPDC’s garrison-capital.

Military tension has escalated in recent months in Shan State as the Burmese regime has been putting pressure on the United Wa State Army to transform into a “Border Guard Force”.

Abuses linked to anti-insurgency campaigns are also on the rise.

As well as profiting financially from the dams the junta stands to benefit strategically as they will make it increasingly hard for groups at war with the regime such as the Shan State Army and Karen National Liberation Army to continue their resistance.

MD&A also constructed the Yeywa dam in central Burma, near Mandalay, along with Swiss company Colenco, and various Chinese firms.

A number of villages in Yeywa's floodplain were, reportedly, forcibly relocated by the army without notice or compensation as a direct result of Yeywa.

Eastern Burma is a mosaic of distinctive tribes but many consider themselves part of larger groupings like the Karen, Shan, Mon, and Karenni.

Its inhabitants rely largely on subsistence farming and the rich soils the Salween nurtures.

According to the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, the flooding will threaten the habitats of at least 235 wild species integral to the environment including many found only in Burma, like the White-eyebrow gibbon.

Campaigners risk their lives to collect petitions from villagers against the dams and educate locals on the situation.

In some areas rumours were spread that they would receive free electricity and there have been prior instances when people only discovered their homes would be flooded when water reached their doorstep.

There is emergency need here,” said Sai Sai, Coordinator of Burma Rivers Network, an organisation that campaigns to stop the damming of Burma’s rivers.

We would like to call on our neighbours,” he added, “the international community and all investors to stop building the dams so we can ensure transparency and accountability.

[The companies] must recognise the right of the people to social justice and sustainable development.”

For further reading see Roots and Resilience - a report from Burma Rivers Network - and Salween Watch. Here's an article I wrote from the border on the situation in late 2008 for


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