Monday, February 29, 2016

KNU stands by hydro project

Myanmar Times   |   Monday, 29 February 2016

An ethnic armed group has been forced to deny that it signed up to the “nationwide” ceasefire agreement (NCA) in order to cash in on a hydropower deal. The Karen National Union (KNU), one of eight armed groups that signed the peace pact last October, said it would not proceed with the proposed Baw Ka Hta dam in Bago Region if local residents objected.

The KNU’s economic committee has formed a company, Thoolei Co Ltd, which signed an agreement with the Ministry of Electricity on February 18 in Nay Pyi Taw to prepare a pre-survey report on the dam within two years. The dam is said to be capable of producing 160 megawatts of electricity.

The power to be generated by the dam, on the Baw Ka Hta River in Kyaukkyi township, Taungoo district, would reportedly be distributed throughout Bago Region and Kayin State.

Saw Tar Doh Moo, the chair of Thoolei, said in a press conference on February 26 that the pre-survey process would cost US$1 million, but no budget for the entirety of the project had yet been drawn up.

“We will meet residents and explain about the dam. If they don’t accept the project, we will not implement it. We are not pursuing this project for ourselves, but for the Karen people, whose interest we serve,” he said.

Saw Tar Doh Moo sought to dispel rumours being circulated on the internet to the effect that the KNU had signed the NCA as part of a quid pro quo involving the dam deal. “We signed the NCA for the benefit of the Karen people, not for the project. The Karen people need to develop like any other ethnic people. Electricity is one of the main requirements of our country, so we decided that we should pursue this hydropower dam project,” he said.

But local civil society groups say residents in the area are opposed to the project and question the KNU’s intentions.

Ma Ta Pee Tha, head of the Peace Life Development Group, said KNU officials met residents on February 2 to discuss the project. At the meeting, locals made clear their opposition to the project.

“But the KNU continued with the dam pre-survey and signed the [memorandum of understanding with the government]. The residents have lost belief in the KNU,” he said.

Other members of the KNU leadership could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Saw Tar Doh Moo, who chairs the group’s economic committee, said the group plans to meet residents and civil society groups again in an attempt to win their support.

According to Thoolei, the Baw Ka Hta dam project was first conceived by the U Nu government, which had considered it in 1954. Armed conflict in the region had made it impossible to proceed.

“After signing of the NCA, a lot of companies were prepared to invest in Kayin State. So we want to implement the project ahead of other companies,” said Saw Tar Doh Moo, adding that compensation problems did not arise because there were no farms or village lands in the vicinity of the dam.

According to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, Thoolei was resistered on June 17, 2013, with an office on Strand Road in Ahlone township.

It has three listed directors: U Saw Nal Dah Htoo, U Saw Eh Say and U Saw Eh Htoo.