Preliminary survey work at the proposed Hat Gyi dam on the Salween River is pushing ahead despite opposition by environmental organizations, which say the project will create huge ecological and social problems in the area.
Survey work began in 2004 but was suspended after two Thai employees of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) died in the area—one after stepping on a landmine and the other killed in a grenade attack.
The Hat Gyi dam is one of a series scheduled to be built on the Salween River in a joint Thai-Burmese-Chinese government program. They are expected to generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity, much of which would be delivered to Thailand.
Survey work at the Hat Gyi dam site resumed in July when a group of about 30 EGAT engineers and other workers visited the area, bringing with them construction equipment.
Law Plah, general coordinator for a community-based environmental organization, the Karen River Watch, told The Irrawaddy that survey work was continuing every day.
“They are now learning about the condition of the land and the river,”
Law Plah said.
The Hat Gyi dam has a potential generating capacity of 1,200 MW. Half of the investment comes from Thailand, 40 percent from China and the rest from Burma.
Environmental groups say about 10,000 villagers would be displaced by the proposed Hat Gyi dam. More than 10 million people, from 13 ethnic groups, will be affected if the entire series of five Salween River dams in Burma is completed.
Appeals to the Thai government by the Karen National Union have failed to stop work on the Hat Gyi project.
The proposed Salween River dams play a key part in a Thai energy production program known as the National Power Development Plan. The plan is expected to be completed by the year 2014, according to environmental groups.
The site of one proposed dam, Wai Gyi, is located in an area of Papun District in Northern Karen State controlled by Brigade 5 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and border sources say an offensive is planned there by the Burmese army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) in September.
A combined Burmese army and DKBA force ousted troops of the KNLA’s Brigade 7 from the area of the proposed Hat Gyi dam in June.
The Burmese regime plans to assign DKBA troops to guard the Hat Gyi dam when it is completed and the hydropower station will supply their bases with electricity, sources say.
Competing business interests in the region of the dams, particularly the logging trade, are also reported to be behind the continuing hostilities between the KNLA and DKBA.