On 14 March 2014, the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams was organized by Karen Rivers Watch in collaboration with several community organizations in Mutraw District. The event was held in Taung Kyararea, Bu Tho Township, Mutraw District, the area where one of the six Salween dam projects, the Hat Gyi Dam, is located.
This is the first time that Karen Rivers Watch, community organizations and communities have commemorated the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams in this area. In total, over 300 people, including people from 11 villages along the Salween River, representatives from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), and some civil society groups such as the Karen Women Organization and the Karen Student Network, joined the event.
The event was organized to motivate the people in the area to stand against the Salween dams together and to raise their voices and their concerns so that decision makers will hear them, as well as to show solidarity with other dam-affected groups holding events in other parts of Burma/Myanmar to mark this day.
“We want to express that we do not want the Hat Gyi Dam or any other dam planned to be built on the Salween River,” said Naw Hsa Moo, a member of Karen River Watch.
Currently, six mega dams are planned to be built on the Salween River, five on the mainstream and one on a tributary. The dam projects are proceeding secretly. One of the six dam projects, Kunlong Dam in northern Shan State, is already going ahead. Due to the construction of access roads in preparation for the Kunlong Dam, communities in over 60 villages have lost their lands and houses already, according to Shan Human Rights Report.
According to a Burma Rivers Network press statement on 14 March 2014, conflict over natural resources is a key driver of war and conflict in Burma/Myanmar. Instead of looking for a solution to the conflict, the Burma/Myanmar government is trying to implement these dam projects before everyone is ready for development. If the government continues with these mega projects, it will only make the conflict worse.
In Karen State, the conflict between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU) has been going on for more than 60 years. Although the government and ethnic armed groups, including the KNU, entered a ceasefire agreement in 2012, so far there is no concrete political agreement that will guarantee genuine peace and the well-being of the people. Instead, while both sides are trying to build trust, the government is sending more troops, rations, supplies and has made their military camps stronger, especially in Mutraw District where the Hatgyi Dam project is located.
In an interview with Karen Rivers Watch,Major Saw Kler Doh, the commander of the Karen National Liberation Army's 5th Brigade, said:
“After we and the government entered the ceasefire, there have been clashes between us several times. Sometimes it happened because the government troops tried to cross the limited area and set up their military camp. More than that, in late 2013, they fired heavy weapons not less than 3 times into the villages in Yeh Mu Plaw area. Also, in early 2014, they fired heavy weapons not less than 3 times in Tea Bo Plaw and Saw Mu Plaw area. In late February 2014, two villages were injured while they were fishing because of the heavy weapons fired by the government troops.”
It is clear that although there is a ceasefire between the government and the KNU and other ethnic armed groups, building trust between the two sides and looking for a solution to reach a genuine peace are still far away. It is necessary that both sides build trust, bring up the root issues that cause conflict, have a political dialogue, and reach a concrete and genuine peace, instead of proceeding with mega development projects such as the Salween dam projects.
People in Mutraw District have known the taste of conflict, war and fleeing for their lives for many years. Now they want to have a peaceful life. However, the planning of the Salween dams is now threatening their daily lives. Because of their past experiences of conflict and these current threats, today, on the International Day of Action for Rivers and Against Dams, they join hands together and raise their voices and concerns so that decision makers will not ignore them.
As part of the event, Christian, Buddhist, and Animist religious rituals were conducted. At the end of the event, participants shouted the following slogans:
We Want No Salween Dams!
Stop Salween Dams!
Let the Salween Flow Free!
“To those who are involved in these Salween Dam projects, we want to inform them that we people will suffer because of these projects. Please consider not only your own benefit but also the well-being of the people as well,” said Naw Eh T’ Mwee Paw from Karen Women Organization.