Protests erupt in Myanmar over mega-dam as Suu Kyi heads to China

Thousands in northern Myanmar took to the streets Monday, 22 April to protest over a Chinese-backed mega-dam that critics say will cause environmental damage and displace thousands, while bringing little benefit to the country.

The government cancelled the $3.6bn Myitsone dam in Kachin state in 2011 after an environmental assessment it had commissioned warned against it, but civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged people last month to support it, reports AFP.

The protest came ahead of Suu Kyi’s trip to Beijing on 25 April for a summit on China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Environmental group the WWF has said nearly 12,000 people would be displaced by the dam’s reservoir, which would flood a large area, and that it would trap the sediment of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irawaddy) River Delta, harming agriculture and blocking migratory fish.

In 2009, Myanmar’s military junta signed a deal for the 6,000 megawatt dam with state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI). Most of the power generated would go across the border to China, said Reuters.

China has increased pressure on Myanmar reinstate the controversial project, AFP said.

Suu Kyi opposed the dam before her party won in the 2015 elections, but in March 2019 she gave a speech calling on people to think about the dam "from a wider perspective".

On Monday protesters marched in the Kachin town of Waimaw, some 50 kilometres from the proposed dam site. They held banners saying "No Myitsone Dam" and called for the river to "flow freely forever".

One of those protesting told AFP that more than 4,000 people marched, while several thousand more had signed a petition against the dam.

Local police said 3,300 protesters had taken part.

Image: Aung San Suu Kyi campaigning in 2012 for by-election campaign at her constituency in March 2012. (Htoo Tay Zar/CC BY-SA 3.0)  

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