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Kachin NGO blasts Harvard think-tank’s Myitsone plan

Thailand-based Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) on Monday slammed a September 20 research paper published by Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation in which the author proposes a revised working model for the suspended Myitsone Dam in Kachin State.

An artist's impression of the controversial Myitsone Dam project on the Irrawaddy River.
“A recent proposal by a Harvard University think-tank to restart the Irrawaddy-Myitsone dam project in order to ‘power the peace process’ in Kachin state fails to address the political root causes of the conflict,” said KDNG.

In his research paper, David Dapice advocates the resumption—under certain criteria—of the controversial mega-dam project which is financially backed by the firm, China Power Investment (CPI).

He offers a renewed approach to the construction of the 10,000-MW project, involving a tripartite agreement between the Kachins, the central Myanmar government and CPI.

“It makes sense for China to want to invest in Myanmar hydropower as it is a relatively cheap, green and accessible resource,” wrote Dapice.

He acknowledges that the Myitsone project was intensely unpopular among locals and that people across Myanmar frequently suffer from power cuts and black outs.

“If China wishes to salvage its past investment in dams and develop a mature and less extractive relationship with Myanmar, it will have to renegotiate the past contracts which were one-sided,” said Dapice.

“The Kachin will have to be involved or else they will create instability. This means China has to play a constructive role in the Kachin peace process,” he said.

The researcher goes on to call for “a serious and independent review” of the environmental and social impacts of the dams. “However,” he notes, “even with some environmental costs, it may be determined that the benefits outweigh the costs.”

Among the benefits, he said, are financial revenue and electricity, plus an impetus to accelerate the peace process between Naypyitaw and the Kachin Independence Organisation.

However, the Kachin NGO dismisses the researcher’s conclusions, saying: “This proposal incorrectly suggests that money is at the root of opposition to the dams as well as the current conflict. The real root cause is the Kachin people’s lack of decision-making power under the previous and current unitary constitutions.
“This lack of power has resulted in decades of exploitation of our natural resources, causing widespread land confiscation, forced relocation, loss of livelihoods and social problems in Kachin State. These experiences have taught us that only the political power to manage and control our own resources will protect our lands and livelihoods, and ensure that development will benefit local people.”

KDNG spokesperson, Ah Nan, said, “Business deals are no substitute for political reform. The Kachin conflict can’t be solved by money. We want self-determination, and the right to decide how our own lands and rivers are managed.”

The full paper “China and Yunnan Economic Relations with Myanmar and the Kachin State: Powering the Peace Process ” [September 2012] can be viewed at:

For more background:
  1. Myitsone Dam project expected to resume in 2015, says CPI
  2. Myitsone Dam Controversy
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 19 February 2013 14:16 )  

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