Myanmar cardinal warns of dam 'death sentence'

Cardinal Bo says people must resist Chinese attempts to restart $3.8m Myitsone project
Myanmar cardinal warns of dam 'death sentence'

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo officiates a Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines on Jan. 31, 2016. He has made an impassioned plea to stop the Myitsone Dam project in Myanmar. (Photo by AFP)

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has appealed to all stakeholders to stop the China-backed Myitsone Dam as it is an “environmental disaster” and a “death sentence” to the people of Myanmar.

“The grim prospect of millions of farmers losing their livelihood, the abuse of sacred sites along the rivers, the death and destruction of the precious flora and fauna of our dear nation, are becoming a nightmarish reality,” he said in a press release on Jan. 28. 

The cardinal said peace will fade on the horizon and a bleak future awaits the people of Myanmar if the dam project goes ahead.

“Myitsone Dam is a death sentence for the people of Myanmar. For a peaceful future, it must be stopped,” he said.

“Faced with the sad prospect of losing our mother Irrawaddy … to the greed of a superpower, every Myanmar citizen pleads with all people of goodwill to come to the support of the poor of Myanmar.

“Irrawaddy is not a river to us; she is not a commodity to be bartered. She is the sacred mother of all Myanmar people. Her history is intertwined with the history of Myanmar. Like the jewel around the neck of our nation, Irrawaddy traverses through the whole nation crossing thousands of miles. She is witness to our sorrows, joys and wounded history. She is our hope, she is our destiny.”

The US$3.8 billion dam project on the Irrawaddy, Myanmar's premier waterway, aims to provide hydroelectricity that will be used almost exclusively in neighboring China.

By 2010, the dam's construction had caused at least 3,000 people to be relocated from their homes to newly built villages.

The military-backed government of President Thein Sein suspended construction in September 2011, but China has vigorously called for work to resume on the project

Cardinal Bo, 70, said: “Big and powerful countries need everything from this nation. For decades, they abused its strategic position to threaten Myanmar. They commodified our girls and women through human trafficking in the northern states of Myanmar.”

The outspoken cardinal warned those who support restarting the dam project are like sons and daughters who commodify their parents for monetary gain. “History will never forgive those who sell our mother Irrawaddy,” he said.

The cardinal urged all stakeholders to stop their attempts to abuse the river and called on the people of Myanmar to join hands in protecting its dignity.

Renewed concerns over the project follow a December visit by Chinese ambassador Hong Liang to Kachin where he met with political parties and social organizations.

Two weeks after the meeting, China's embassy in Yangon released a statement saying the local Kachin community were not against the project but some outside individuals and social organizations were.

Three Kachin political parties quickly rebutted the claim.

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A group of displaced villagers calling themselves Mungchying Rawt Jat issued a statement on Jan. 24 asking the government to ensure the Myitsone project is shut down and that displaced villagers receive compensation.

On Jan. 27, around 200 people took to the streets in Yangon and held placards reading “Save the Irrawaddy,” “Protect the Irrawaddy” and “The whole nation opposes Myitsone Dam.”

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