Backed by local activists, a group of ethnic Kachin villagers plans to sue China Power Investment Co. (CPI), the Chinese state-backed company awarded a license by the former Myanmar junta to build the Myitsone Dam on the Irawaddy River.
Bawk Jar, a high-profile Kachin activist and spokesperson for the group, told the independent news outlet The Irrawaddy that Myitsone residents are exploring ways to take legal action against CPI for wrecking the ecosystem and obliging hundreds of people to move.
“They [CPI] destroyed our land. They destroyed our environment. They destroyed the livelihoods of our people. They also destroyed our heritage,” said Bawk Jar who also chairs the Kachin State National Democratic Force and is the founder of an NGO called Vision of Peace.
Now, locals bracing to sue CPI are scouting for law firms, she said.
Myanmar President Thein Sein announced that construction of the Chinese-backed dam in Kachin state would be suspended back in October 2011.
The move was welcomed by environmentalists and local residents. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the dam would displace thousands of people and pose a threat to the Irrawaddy River’s ecology.
But in February, the Chinese government reportedly urged the Myanmar authorities to resume construction, and in July, CPI tried to rally Kachin residents who live near the dam site to support the project.
Representatives of the Chinese company visited the homes of residents who had been moved to an area near the dam’s construction site, according to a report by the Kachin News Group.
The Asia Times cited Chinese-language documents suggesting that Beijing wants to restart the project at least partly as a regional show of influence.
The Chinese Hydropower Association and the Chinese government accused Myanmar of contract violation over the cancellation, according to Chinese media reports.
The Burma Rivers Network, which represents dam-affected communities in Myanmar, insisted that the decision to shelve the dam mirrored the will of the Burmese people.
According to Burma Rivers, big dams are being built on all of Myanmar’s main rivers and tributaries by companies from China, Thailand and India.
“The dams are causing displacement, militarization, human rights abuses and irreversible environmental damage, which is threatening the livelihoods and food security of millions,” the group warned.
The dam was expected to be the world’s fifteenth largest hydroelectric power station.
The electricity generated was to be piped mainly to China for 50 years, despite limited power supply in Burma. The apparent distribution imbalance has fuelled local and international opposition.