(Reuters) - Myanmar’s government is suspending a $3.6 billion, Chinese-led dam project, President Thein Sein told parliament on Friday, according to officials.
Below are some of the facts about Myanmar’s largest hydropower project, which had sparked rare public criticism in the authoritarian country.
- The Myitsone Hydroelectric Project is located at the confluence of the Mali and Nmai rivers, about 37 km from Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Myanmar. It was scheduled for completion in 2019 with capacity of 6,000 megawatts. Construction began in December 2009. The dam is 152 metres long and 152 metres high and would have flooded an area about the size of Singapore.
- About 90 percent of the electricity generated from the project is expected to go to China, with the Myanmar government receiving about $500 million annually, some 20 percent of the revenue.
- Myanmar Ministry of Electric Power-1, China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) and Myanmar’s Asia World Company are developing the project.
- Environmental groups said the dam site is less than 100 km (60 miles) from a fault line. They also said dams along the Irrawaddy would hurt downstream communities who rely on it for rice production and would prevent seasonal migration of fish.
- A report commissioned by CPI itself and conducted by Chinese and Myanmar experts recommended building two smaller hydropower dams to substitute the Myitsone Dam.
- The project has the support of Minister of Electric Power-1 Zaw Min. In early September, he said the government was going ahead with the project despite numerous environmental and social concerns raised by local and international groups. Zaw Min, together with vice-president Tin Aung Myint Oo and former strongman Than Shwe, are alleged to be main benefactors of the project.
- Observers say there are different motivations within the vocal opposition to the Myitsone project. The Kachins object to losing their land and resources for a project from which they will get no benefit; others are political and business opponents of Tin Aung Myint Oo and his close associate, Stephen Law, an ethnic Kokang Chinese whose family run Asia World; many oppose what they see as China’s use of Myanmar’s natural resources for its own gain.
- Analysts say tension between ethnic Kachin rebels and Myanmar’s military has worsened since construction of the dam began. Fighting between the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO) and the military erupted in June near two other Chinese-built dams, breaking a 17-year ceasefire. [ID:nL3E7HG0RR] Clashes, including near Myitsone Dam, are continuing and have displaced tens of thousands of Kachins.
Editing by Alan Raybould and Jonathan Thatcher