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Suu Kyi calls for 'open minds' over Myitsone Dam

Myanmar leader pledges transparent government decision over Chinese-backed project

Suu Kyi calls for 'open minds' over Myitsone Dam

Protesters demand the Myanmar government permanently stop the construction of Myitsone Dam in a rally in Myitkyina on Feb. 7. The controversial project was halted in 2011 following protests over environmental and safety concerns. (Photo by Zau Ring Hpra/AFP)

Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has appealed to people to be open-minded about the Myitsone Dam and other projects.

She gave a rare public comment over the stalled dam project in Kachin State when asked for her view during a meeting with residents in Pyay in the Bago region on March 14.

Suu Kyi urged people to be open-minded about megaprojects and said the government would make decisions responsibly.

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“Our people need to assess the situation from wider views, whether it is Myitsone or any other megaprojects,” she said.

“We have to think politically, socially and economically and we could make a wrong decision if we see it from one perspective.

“Some large projects were initiated by the previous government but we cannot reject those undertakings during our administration. The government’s decision will be transparent and the public will know the reasons for the decision.”

Suu Kyi, however, did not give her stance on whether the Chinese-backed dam project should be scrapped or continued.

Steven Tsa Ji, general secretary of Kachin Development Networking Group, said Suu Kyi’s comments did not give a clear message over her government’s stance on Myitsone Dam.

“The government needs to take bold steps and make a firm decision over Myitsone for the sake of the people and the country’s sovereignty,” he told ucanews.com.

Tsa Ji doubts whether Suu Kyi can make her own decision amid intense Chinese pressure and the role of China in Myanmar’s peace process and Rakhine issues.

“If the government gives the green light to the dam, it will have great impact on the people in the country environmentally, socially and in terms of security,” he said.

Bernadette Ja Hkawng, a Catholic activist, said the government needs to consider people’s concerns.

“We all need to keep fighting for the dam to be scrapped permanently,” said Ja Hkawng, who was forced to make way for the megaproject and leave her Tangphre village in 2010.

Following protests and widespread environmental concerns, the military-backed government of President Thein Sein suspended the dam’s construction in September 2011.

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

Most of the electricity produced by the US$3.8 billion project would go to neighboring China.

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

Two weeks after the meeting, China's embassy in Yangon released a statement saying the Kachin community were not against the project but some outside individuals and social organizations were. Three Kachin political parties quickly rebutted the Chinese claim.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has appealed to all stakeholders to stop the dam project as it is an “environmental disaster” and a “death sentence” for the people of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi is expected to visit Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Forum in April and is due to hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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