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Burma uses China investment to harass opponents

Posted by Author on November 8, 2010

by Sue Lloyd-Roberts in Mae Hong Son, telegraph.co.uk, Nov. 8, 2010 –

Dam construction has seen thousands of Burmese villagers driven out of the country in a strategy that prepared the way for the first nationwide election in two decades on Sunday under a new constitution designed to bring military backed political parties to power.

Refugees from Burma flock across the Thai border in motley groups with bags on their backs and babies in their arms. At a refugee camp outside the town of Mae Hong Son, the numbers of ethnic Karen displaced are growing at a faster rate than at any time since military rule began in 1962.

“They are emptying villages faster than we can cope,” said Khu Htebu, the welfare officer. “They are destroying hundreds of villages.
The victims claim to have been forced out by a government policy known as “Damming at Gunpoint”.

Activists from the Burma Rivers Network claim construction is under way on forty dams on rivers that flow between Burma and China and Thailand. The majority are being built as joint ventures between the Burmese military and Chinese construction companies and government troops have been deployed to remove local inhabitants from the flood basins.

“The government soldiers started burning the village and then, with machine guns, opened fire. They were shooting everywhere and it was the old and the children who were killed. The rest of us ran away”, says Boe Reh, a refugee in his 50s.

His wife, Htay Moe, takes up the story “We had to keep moving. They killed anyone who stopped. Some women were so pregnant that they could barely walk and so they got stones and beat their stomachs to kill their babies, to miscarry so that they could run.”

From Mae Hong Son, I crossed into Burma illegally, where guerrillas from the rebel Karenni army face the Burmese military along front lines.

Major General Aung Myat, the Karen commander, said Chinese support was vital to the Burmese operations. “They’ve brought more army units in, they’ve moved the villagers out, they’ve laid landmines everywhere and they’ve brought in Chinese technicians to help them build the dams”, he said.

From the junta´s point of view, it is a cunning plan. They have been dealing with uprisings among Burma’s recalcitrant ethnic people for half a century. By flooding the areas where villages support the rebel armies, they get rid of the insurgents’ supply lines and make the money they need to keep in power by selling hydroelectricity to Thailand and China.

Chinese investment is critically important to the Burmese regime. Beijing has invested some $8 billion in gas, oil and hydroelectric ventures in Burma this year alone.

But Burma’s other neighbours are happy to co-operate. On signing a recent Memorandum of Understanding on a hydroelectric project, the head of Thailand’s Electricity Authority announced, “it is a win-win situation. The Kingdom of Thailand will get cheap electricity while Burma can earn much needed revenue”.

The elections did not provide an opportunity to voice grievances. Many local parties wanting to stand on local issues were not allowed to register and over a million people in the ethnic areas were not allowed to vote. “The elections were just to keep the junta in power”, said Maj Gen Aung. “Once this dam project is finished, the power will be sent over the border and there will be nothing for us, local people.”

The Telegraph

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