Myitsone villagers, Kachin groups incensed after consultation

By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER

YANGON —  Locals in Kachin State have challenged a claim by the government’s Myitsone Dam committee that representatives of the body visited a relocation village for families displaced by the project, telling Frontier this week that officials did not tour the site in the course of their study.

At a Sunday meeting in Myitkyina, committee members met with the regional government, civil society groups and locals to discuss the widely-unpopular project’s impact.

In the aftermath of the meeting, the committee issued a statement saying it had visited two villages in the course of its research, including the infamous Aung Myin Thar resettlement village, 13 kilometres from the project site.

Established to rehome people living at the epicentre of the project six years ago, Aung Myin Thar villagers have demanded permission to return home, citing the impossibility of forging a livelihood without access to the farmland confiscated during their relocation.

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Residents had sent a letter asking the committee’s members to visit the village and assess the conditions on September 15, but received no response. Travelling to Myitkyina for Sunday’s meeting, Tu Hkawng said he was incensed that he was not allowed to speak as a representative of Aung Myin Thar villagers.

“Even after we asked Dr Khat Aung, the chief minister of Kachin State for three minutes to talk, they didn’t accept it, saying that they didn’t have time,” he said. “We want the government to listen to the voice of the people.”

Elsewhere, response to the committee hearing was lukewarm, with Ja Seng Hkawn of the Kachin State Democracy Party telling Frontier its members did not appear to have a firm grasp of the subject matter.

“It seems they don’t have that much knowledge around this dam project even though most of the people in Kachin State are fighting against it,” she said on Monday.

Of the 15 or so groups represented in the meeting, all but one emphatically called for the cancellation of the project, which has sat in limbo since a suspension enacted by former President U Thein Sein in 2011.

The Lisu Traditional Literature Group gave the only qualified support to the dam, saying that it could support the project if the government was able to demonstrate its advantages to the people of Kachin State.

Tsa Ji, general secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group, was exasperated that the group was allowed to speak at length in partial support of the Myitsone project while organisations with more relevant expertise had their speaking time restricted.

“At the meeting, we found that they didn’t actually allow talk of the dam project by civil society organisations working in the observation of social and environmental effects, or with knowledge of natural resources like the river network,” he told Frontier.

“But the groups working on traditional literature were permitted to talk. Even though we prepared a lot in order to address the meeting, we didn’t have a chance.”

Tsa Ji confirmed Tu Hkawng’s claim that committee members had not visited Aung Myin Thar, contrary to the statement issued after the meeting.

The committee was due to deliver its findings to government this month, but requested an extension of time to report. It is due to hand down its report in November.

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