Thousands of people on Thursday gathered in a park in Myitkyina township in Kachin State to call for a complete halt to the China-financed work on the Myitsone dam on the Ayeyarwady River.
Over 7000 Kachin people gathered in Manaw park to denounce attempts by China and others to restart the project, which has been mothballed since 2011 when strong opposition from residents forced its cancellation.
“That dam is not for us. We support the free flow of the Ayeyarwady. We can’t accept implementing the project without the people’s will,” said U Sar Chi, one of the protest leaders.
The protesters said that 90 percent of the electricity that will be produced by the dam will be exported to China and will not benefit the country.
They said the demonstration was also meant to criticise a recent statement by the Chinese embassy in Myanmar that most Kachin people support the project and only a few non-governmental organisations and political parties oppose it.
Among the protesters were Kachin religious leaders from Myitkyina and Waingmaw township, Buddhist monks, and Kachin political parties, civil society groups and activists.
The protesters carried placards with slogans opposing the project, written in Myanmar, Chinese and English.
“We are protesting against the project not because we hate Chinese people. We don’t hate the Chinese. We are doing this only because we don’t want this project,” said Daw Lura, a local resident who was displaced by the project.
Police arrested one of the protest leaders, Daw Ja Gaung, who had secured the demonstration permit, for failing to follow the terms of the permit. Police charged Daw Ja Gaung with violating the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.
Myint Moe, chief of No. 1 police station in Myitkyina, said that among the violations by the protesters was their use of a loudspeaker and headbands printed with “No to Myitsone dam.”
U Aung Hkam, chairman of the Kachin Democratic Party, urged the government to take decisive action and stand with the people in opposing the dam.
He warned that the government will meet with strong opposition if it ignores the people’s will.
The dam project was signed with China under the administration of president U Thein Sein. Its construction began in 2009, but it was suspended in September 2011 after widespread public protests.
Last week, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Defence Services, assured Baptist leaders that the military will respect the people’s will on the dam.
U Thaung Tun, minister of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations, told reporters recently that talks are ongoing to relocate and possibly downsize the project.