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Hydro project giant throws out villagers

For Catholics hit by gold mining, new power project adds to their misery

Hydro project giant throws out villagers
The idyllic scene near the planned Myitsone Hydro power project reporter, Myitkyina

April 14, 2011

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It was only last month that local authorities and employees from Myanmar’s biggest conglomerate started relocating about 130 families from Tanghpre in Myitkyina diocese to Aung Min Thar. The relocation, being carried out “in the name of progress,” has only served so far to increase villagers' fears over what they say is already an uncertain future. "Around 10 trucks along with many policemen, local government employees, firemen and security guards from the Asia World Company came and started loading us on," Naw Naw, a 28-year-old villager said. They took them to Aung Min Thar is 16 kilometers south of Tanghpre where most of the buildings look like "temporary shelters." Tanghpre is 43 kilometers north of Myitkyina and where the construction of two large dams for the Myitsone hydropower project is taking place. When this project is completed, it will generate six gigawatts which will almost double the country's present capacity of 3.285,  according to the Myanmar Times newspaper. "Relocating villagers near the Myitsone dam - the largest one - and seven other dams along the Mali and Nmai rivers still makes people living along the rivers deeply concerned about their futures and livelihoods," Naw said. Earlier this year, over 60 families from Mazup, Dawng Pan and Lahpe villages were force to move to Aung Min Thar. "Each family received 100,000 kyat (USD 100), a TV, a house and rice for six months from Asia World," said villager Nhkum Hkon. Asia World, which is behind the hydroelectric power project, is receiving financial and technical support from the Chinese government.

Asia World Ltd is Myanmar's biggest and most diversified conglomerate with interests in industrial development, construction, transportation, import-export and a chain of local supermarkets.

The company is run by Lo Hsing Han and his son Steven Law, both of whom have been on a US visa blacklist since 1996 for suspected drug trafficking activities.

In February 2008, they were also put on the treasury department's sanctions list, along with Asia World Company itself and subsidiaries Asia World Co Ltd, Asia World Port Management, Asia World Industries Ltd and Asia World Light Ltd for their financial connections to the regime.

Ten more companies are owned under the group in Singapore by Law's wife, Cecilia Ng.

Some villagers in Tanghpre don’t want to leave and say they are being forced to sell their land at fixed prices. "Most of us have been living here for years and can't leave our homes and lands because the land belongs to our forefathers and is our birthright," said Sara Aung, a local catechist. Yet the situation in Tanghpre, has been giving cause for concern for several years. There are still many private companies digging for gold along the nearby Mali and Nmai rivers and around the village. These companies have destroyed all the irrigated rice plantations, leaving local villagers helpless. "We are being forced to leave our homes because of natural resources. This is our land and we have been living here for generations. No one cares for us," said 26 year old Ma Aung. According to a local police source, these companies will stay in the village and dig for gold for three more years. For Catholics, the move from Tanghpre comes with a heavy heart. Tanghpre was the birthplace for the Catholic Columban Mission where Columban Fathers, built a church and mission schools just after World War II for local Kachin people who were then animists living on "green hills," according to Father Thomas, a Catholic priest. The Marian Grotto and Our Lady Queen of Heaven church were built in 1952 and became places of pilgrimage for Kachin people. Father Thomas said that Taung-ok Zinghtung Naw (a mountain-chieftain appointed by the government) -who is also a relative of Archbishop Paul Zinghtung Grawng of Mandalay, was the first person to convert to Catholicism in Tanghpre. Tanghpre, said the priest, is also where Fathers Bernard Way and Patrick Madden opened a school for catechists and published Jinghpaw Kasa (Jinghpaw Messenger), the first magazine for the Catholic Kachin community. But when the last of the villagers is relocated soon, all that was built will come to an end, said Naw. MY13903.1648
Myanmar's biggest and most diversified conglomerate with interests in industrial development, construction, transportation, import-export and a chain of local supermarkets.

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