Salween Watch Update

February 2003
, Volume 13





2. EGAT TO TAKE PART IN SALWEEN DAM PROJECT. Yuthana Praiwan, Bangkok Post: November 16, 2002

3. MDX PLANS DAM ON SALWEEN. Yuthana Praiwan, Bangkok Post: December 13, 2002

4. 69 GROUPS OPPOSE SALWEEN DAM PROJECT. The Nation: December 19, 2002

5. DON'T STALL ON PRIVATISATION, EGAT TOLD. Bangkok Post: December 19, 2002

6. SENATE PANEL WANTS DAM PLANS SCRAPPED. Kultida Samabuddhi, Bangkok Post: December 19, 2002

7. EGAT BOARD RESIGNS EN MASS, AVOIDS CONTENTIOUS DECISION Post reporters, Bangkok Post: January 21, 2003

8. FUNDS SOUGHT FOR SALWEEN POWER PLANT. Yuthana Praiwan, Bangkok Post: January 20, 2003


10. BORDER REMAINS CLOSED AFTER RANGOON CHANGES MIND. Shan Herald Agency for News: January 27, 2003

11. GOVT `PLAYS A ROLE IN ETHNIC CLEANSING'. Achara Ashayagachat,  Bangkok Post: January 28, 2003

12. THAIS WARY OF LATEST BURMESE BLITZKRIEG. Asian Tribune: January 28, 2003

13. BURMA LOOKS ABROAD TO AVERT FOCUS AT HOME. Larry Jagan, Bangkok Post: January 29, 2003

14. THREE-FOLD ERADICATION DEAL. Yuwadee Tunyasiri Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post: February 11, 2003

15.    RESIDENTS ADVISED TO MOVE. S.H.A.N.  February 14, 2003

16. SENATE WANTS PROJECT NIXED. Kultida Samabuddhi, Bangkok Post: February 15, 2003






1. Salween Watch Editorial: A Brief Summary of the Past 18 Months


After a quiet period of almost two years, plans for damming the mighty Salween River are again being pushed ahead, with a flurry of activity happening in the past several months. The Thai economy is recovering from the crash of 1997, and the demand for electricity is again on the rise. Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has also been putting a lot of effort into improving relations between Burma and Thailand, one of the features of which is to develop hydropower projects on the Salween River (Thanlwin River in Burmese).  The dam project appears to be part of a diplomatic offensive to help cultivate a stable relationship with the Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

A final decision on the location of the dam is still to be made, but the two governments are looking seriously at two sites. The GMS Power Group, a subsidiary of a Thai company called MDX Plc has been conducting studies at the potential project site of Ta Sang, Shan State since 1997. On December 20th 2002, MDX signed a memorandum of understanding with Rangoon for the construction of a 3,600-megawatt (MW) hydropower dam at the Ta Sang site. The feasibility studies for the dam project have also been completed. Over 300,000 Shan and other ethnic groups have already been forced to relocate from Central Shan State, a large swathe of which would be in the flood zone of the dam. The relocations are believed to be intimately related to the project plans and security of the project areas.

Although many have thought that Ta Sang would be the area of choice because it has had the most advanced studies done on it, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and some elements in the Thai government, have reintroduced the idea of developing the Weigyi and Dagwin dam sites on the lower Salween. This project site is along the Thai/Burma border, opposite Mae Sariang District, Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand, and would have the greatest impacts on Karen and Karenni States. EGAT has already submitted the project to the cabinet for consideration and has conducted preliminary/prefeasibility studies.  Although the dams will be located on the border, the generating units will be installed in Thailand and would have a combined generating capacity of over 5,000 MW.

By building the dams either directly on the border or inside Burma, Thailand hopes to avoid protests and pressure from Thai conservationists.  Many of the environmental impacts will be in Burma and, at least according to EGAT, Thailand would consequently be unaffected by the damage the Salween dams will cause.

It appears that the Burmese regime is pushing for a dam at Ta Sang, presumably because it is completely on Burmese soil and they would then have more control over Thailand's power supply, and also any future water diversion. Siting the dam in Shan State would also give greater incentive to the Thais to help the regime crush the ethnically related Shan people who live in the area and who many Thai people sympathise with.

MDX Plc is apparently promoting this site as it is also facing financial problems and the project would help to sustain the company.

Despite the MDX move, powerful Thai officials are pushing for the dams to be sited lower on the Salween, bordering Karen State. In this area, Thailand will have more control of the power supply and regulation of the water flow downstream. Daily and peak requirements, maintenance, etc would also be easier for them to address if under Thai control. Most importantly, it would also be easier for EGAT to raise funding for the project.

In January 2003, the EGAT board was forced to resign and a new board was formed due to pressures from the government to split up and privatise. EGAT however wants to stay as one unit that holds state enterprise status, and is trying to use the Salween dam issue to justify this. The project is a huge investment and EGAT argues that it won't be able to lever

funds for the dam if it is divided up.

Aside from energy, water diversion is also important for Thailand. Thailand experiences occasional water shortages in the Chao Phraya Basin during the dry season, and water diversion projects from the Salween and its tributaries have been under investigation for some time. Water diversion is a diplomatically sensitive issue on which Thailand does not yet have an agreement with Burma.  The lower Salween dam sites would be much easier to access for water diversion than a dam in Ta Sang and are hence more attractive to Thailand.

The Senate Foreign Affairs committee of Thailand has requested that EGAT and MDX dismiss the plans for the dam projects out of concern for national security and Thailand's international image. The committee has asserted that the project will lead to more human rights abuses and oppression, which will force more people to flee to Thailand. These abuses could then be connected to Thailand and its relations with Burma, with negative international repercussions. In addition, many NGO's have signed petitions to protest the dams.

Thai energy demand is again surging with the resumption of its economic growth, and the current massive 40% oversupply of electric power potential may, if the unsustainable growth continues, be reduced by renewed demand by the time a dam on the Salween would be completed. There are, however, numerous other energy projects that are also in the works.

Other significant developments affecting the dam plans are that Burma's neighbouring countries are actively pushing alliances with the SPDC, and there appears to be a deliberate ongoing attempt to break the long-standing economic sanctions. This has been triggered because India and Japan want to counterbalance the actions of China, which has gained unprecedented influence over Burma by actively supporting and funding large infrastructure projects, continuing to support the junta's rearmament program, and striking large resource deals. Japan finally approved a grant consisting of US$ 28 million in May 2002 to repair the Baluchaung Hydropower plants. This has now opened the door for other countries in the region to move in and deal with the regime as well. Therefore, Burma, while suffering great economic malaise, is effectively no longer in isolation.

Meanwhile, in India, China, and Thailand, pro-democracy activists from Burma are experiencing increased pressure as the neighbouring countries have warmed towards the SPDC junta. The Thai authorities are actively pushing Burmese activists back across the border, denying visas, and shutting down Burmese NGO offices. Prime Minister Thaksin is seeking a repatriation agreement with Burma and from February 9 to 10, visited the Burmese regime in Rangoon, where they discussed working together for the "eradication of drugs" by establishing peace along the border. It is questionable how the Thai government would pressure the ethnic resistance groups into a peace deal, given the regime's intransigence on political negotiation. However, quashing the resistance movements would create far more favourable conditions for the Thai and Burmese governments to forge ahead with the plans for hydropower and water exploitation. Significantly, the Thai government has also moved to crack down on Thai NGO's and protestors for issues related to energy like the Thai-Malaysia gas pipeline, the Pak Moon Dam, and coal mining.

While a decision on the Salween dam location is sought, more comparative studies will have to be done before an informed decision can be made. In December it was observed by inside sources that some surveying had started in the Weigyi area, and there has been much activity in Ta Sang.  A 22-man team of Thai experts: 3 from MDX and 19 from EGAT have been in the Ta Sang area since January 21, reportedly erecting stakes on both sides of the river stretching 2-3 km upstream from the site and measuring river depths.

All the aforementioned factors are of serious concern in regard to the livelihoods of the ethnic minority groups in Burma. Thailand is taking advantage of Burma's lack of democracy for its own benefit, and disregarding the human rights abuses and environmental threats connected with its so-called development. Aside from mass evictions in the Ta Sang area, there have been many accounts of other abuses, including forced labour, extrajudicial killing, torture, and sexual violence. Many of the cases found in  "License to Rape" published by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) in May 2002, are from the dam and flood area of the Ta Sang project. Militarisation of the area has also been escalating in recent months. This military build up appears to be in preparation for a major offensive by the SPDC against the Shan State Army (SSA), which has indicated its opposition to the construction of the dam.





2. Egat to take part in Salween dam project
Avoids protests and saves money


Yuthana Praiwan, Bangkok Post: November 16, 2002


            Thailand's key electricity generating authority will invest in building a dam on the Salween River in Burma as it says hydro-power is the cheapest method of generating power.

As well, investing in hydro-electric projects in neighbouring countries means avoiding protests by conservationists in Thailand where they have more freedom to press their cause and power projects are required to pass environmental impact assessment.

            The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand says it will invest in the US$5.5-billion project as it is cheaper than building its own power plants in Thailand using other sources of energy such as coal and oil.

Egat's board yesterday approved plans to buy power generated by the project. The authority's executives will talk with Burmese counterparts on Nov 21 with a view to starting dam construction as quickly as possible.

Under the existing plan, the dam is due to start supplying electricity to Egat by 2013 but the board wanted an earlier delivery date, said Sitthiporn Rattanopas, Egat's governor.
The dam will produce 5,000 megawatts of electricity, according to a study by Energy Power Development Corporation of

It says the project has high potential for power production as it will have a storage capacity of 120,000 cubic metres of water, compared with 6,000 cubic metres at the Bhumibol dam, the biggest in Thailand. The dam will be located in Burma, opposite Mae Sa Liang in Mae Hong Son.

Mr Sitthiporn said Egat would develop, finance and operate the project under a timeframe specified in a concession granted by Burmese authorities. After the concession expired, Egat and Burma would hold an equal stake in the project.

Part of the construction cost will be met from 10 billion baht that Egat derived from retained earnings and proceeds from the sale of the Ratchaburi power plant. The balance will be borrowed or obtained by issuing bonds.

Although the dam is located in Burma, the generating units will be installed in Thailand, making it easier for Egat to secure low-interest loans to fund the project.

The Salween project was discussed at the recent Asean Summit in Cambodia where energy ministers agreed the project would go ahead. The Burmese government is encouraging Asean members to develop basic infrastructure in Burma.

Mr Sitthiporn said Egat's board also endorsed a plan to extend the operating life of the authority's existing power plants by 15 years from their regular lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
Egat could save about US$203 million by overhauling the units rather than building new plants, he said.

The existing plants currently produce a total of 2,800 megawatts.
All but Bang Pakong,
South Bangkok and Khanom power plants would have their units overhauled, Mr Sitthiporn said.





3. MDX plans dam on Salween


Yuthana Praiwan, Bangkok Post: December 13, 2002


MDX Plc, a local major construction group, is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with Rangoon for the construction of a 3,600-megawatt hydro-power dam on the Salween River.

Sitthiporn Ratanopas, governor of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, said the signing would take place on Dec 20.

The firm would develop the project in the upper part of the Salween River. The project is being developed separately from those of Egat.

GMS Power, a subsidiary of MDX, has been conducting studies on the project since 1997. MDX has also won deals with Rangoon to build a coal mine in a Burmese town opposite Prachuap Khiri Khan, a port project in Tavoy and a Mae Sot-Rangoon road project.The company also has construction projects for dams in China and Laos. MDX's shares have been suspended and are in the rehabilitation sector of the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

A 1991 survey by Energy and Power Development Corporation, a Japanese government-owned generating firm, identified six potential sites along the Salween River in 1991 for hydro-power projects.

MDX has expressed interest in developing one site and has signed an initial agreement with Rangoon while Egat has focused attention on another two sites for possible dam construction.The other three sites had attracted little attention from developers.

The project to be developed by MDX is located at Tasang, in Shan state, Burma. Although the site is not in Thai territory, electricity transmission cables could be linked. MDX executives declined to give details of the project. However, it is expected the dam construction would require a total investment of at least US$3.6 billion.

A source at Egat said the two dams the authority was interested in constructing would have power generation capacity of 4,540 and 792 megawatts, respectively.

The project site is opposite Mae Sariang district in Mae Hong Son province. Egat has already submitted the project for the two dams to the cabinet for consideration.

The government was considering whether the project should be implemented by Egat or private companies. The project also depended on negotiations with the governments of the two neighbouring countries.

The study by the Japanese firm showed the 4,540-megawatt dam is expected to be around 570 metres long and 168 metres high. The dam, if completely built, could result in a flooded area of 21,400 rai, compared with 150,000 rai flooded by the Sirikit and Bhumibol dams in Thailand.

The project to be developed by Egat is expected to require total investment of between $5 billion and 5.6 billion.

Mr Sitthiporn said the plant on the Salween River could begin supplying power to Thailand in 2009.

Its generation cost would be the lowest in Asia at 90 satang per unit compared with 1.80 to two baht per unit for petroleum and coal-fired power plants.



4. 69 groups oppose Salween dam plan


The Nation: December 19, 2002


A group of 69 non-governmental organisations and Burmese dissidents

yesterday voiced opposition to the proposed US$5.5 billion (Bt237 trillion)

hydro-electric dam on the Salween River, saying the project was socially

and environmentally damaging.

Energy Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana recently commissioned the Electricity

Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) to conduct a feasibility study into

the Salween dam.

The project's opponents submitted an open letter to the Senate Committee on

Foreign Affairs urging it to scrutinise the project, saying the dam offered little benefit for Thailand but would harm the environment and ethnic minorities in the region.

The location of the dam has not yet been decided.Egat governor Sitthiporn Rattanopas said Rangoon wanted to site the 3,000 megawatt dam near Burma's Tha Sang township while Egat proposed building the dam on the Thai side. The Salween River flows mostly through Burma but a small portion of the river forms the Thai-Burmese border.

Some 10 million people from 13 ethnic minorities live along the river and

rely on it for their survival, said the letter signed by groups that include the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) and the All Burmese Students' Democratic Front.

"Even though the project has not been approved, many people have been

forced to relocate. Some of them were raped and killed," the letter said. Civil war between rebellious ethnic groups and the junta is still going on in areas proposed for the project, it added.

The project developers should hold off on the dam's construction until

Burma has peace and full democracy, it said.

A Thai construction company MDX is preparing to sign a memorandum of

understanding with Rangoon tomorrow to construct another dam on the Salween River.





5. Don't stall on privatisation, Egat told


Bangok Post: December 19, 2002


The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) could not use its

planned hydro-power plant along the Salween River as a pretext to postpone

privatisation by 2004, said Energy Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana."The privatisation of Egat must be completed as scheduled in 2004. The authority cannot delay it by using the 200-billion-baht hydro-power plant project as a pretext because they are not related,'' Mr Pongthep said yesterday.

"The project is one of co-operation between the governments of Burma and

Thailand and is proposed on a long-term basis. So, there is a chance of additional fund-raising in the future.''

Previously, Egat governor Sitthiporn Ratanopas had expressed concern that

the privatisation of the authority, if implemented as scheduled, would impede its mobilisation of funds for investment in the Salween project.Egat has also disagreed with a proposal by the Energy Policy and Planning Office (Eppo) to privatise electricity generating agencies through a new electricity supply arrangement.

Under the proposed approach, the power transmission system would be split

off from Egat. Its power plants would be categorised into three groups of electricity generating units to curb its monopoly and encourage price competition for the benefit of the public.

But Egat believes the approach is impractical in Thailand. It wants to have the whole organisation privatised under a single banner, emulating PTT Plc, reasoning it would strengthen the organisation and put a possible increase in power charges on hold.

Mr Pongthep said a workshop would be held on Monday to discuss the best way

to restructure the power industry. The conclusion would be forwarded to the

National Energy Policy Council for consideration next month.





6. Senate panel wants dam plans scrapped

Human rights abuses `likely to increase'


Kultida Samabuddhi, Bangkok Post: December 19, 2002


The Senate foreign affairs panel has called on the Electricity Generation

Authority of Thailand (Egat) and MDX Plc, a construction group, to scrap projects to build dams on the Salween river in Burma, citing concerns for national security and image.

Panel chairman Kraisak Choonhavan yesterday said the projects would lead to

more human rights violations in Burma, thus forcing more oppressed Burmese

people to seek refuge in Thailand.

Thailand already had to deal with more than four million illegal Burmese

immigrants. If the government gave the projects the go-ahead, the problem

of illegal labour and refugees would worsen, the senator said.

MDX is set to sign a memorandum of understanding with Rangoon on Friday on

the construction of a 3,600-megawatt dam, called Ta Sang, on the Salween river in Burma's Shan state.

Meanwhile, Egat is pushing the government to give the green light to another two dams to be built downstream, opposite the Thai district of Mae Sariang in Mae Hong Son.

The Salween project was discussed at a recent Asean summit in Cambodia, where energy ministers agreed the project would go ahead. Rangoon is encouraging other Asean states to help develop basic infrastructure in Burma.

Mr Kraisak said the government would be condemned by the international

community if it decided to do business with the Burmese military junta.

"International forums had already blamed Thailand for implementing theYadana gas pipeline project, which led to the use of forced labour and rape of ethnic people in the project area. The government should not repeat this mistake,'' Mr Kraisak said.






7. Egat board resigns en mass, avoids contentious decision

Privatisation, power plants on agenda


Post reporters, Bangkok Post: January 21, 2003


The board of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) resigned en mass yesterday amid speculation they wanted to avoid making a decision on the controversial power plants in Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The board, appointed by former deputy prime minister Pitak Intrawithayanunt and chaired by Somchai Ruechuphan, said the resignation was to facilitate reform of the bureaucracy.
The move will allow Energy Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana to appoint the new board, as Egat has been transferred from the PM's Office to the new ministry.

Egat governor Sitthiporn Ratanopas said the resignations occurred prior to a meeting which was scheduled to consider 14 key issues.

The most crucial issues were to consider the new power development plan, coal-fired power plants, particularly the controversial Bo Nok and Hin Krut projects in Prachuap Khiri Khan, and Egat's budget. "Every issue is very important. The new board will have to make decisions on issues which need to be finalised by next month,'' Mr Sitthiporn said.

The lack of decision on the coal-fired power plants had also delayed the implementation of the agency's power development plan.

Sommai Phasee, a board member, said the resignations had nothing to do with the controversial power projects. It was to allow the energy minister to appoint his own board.
Activist groups also failed to see the link between the resignations and the Hin Krut and Bo Nok power plants.

Witoon Permpongsacharoen, secretary-general of the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, said the dispute over Egat's privatisation was more likely to be the main reason for the resignation. It seemed the board was not particularly keen on the idea.

Ida Aroonwong, a campaigner for the Alternative Energy Project for Sustainability, said the resignation could mean a further delay of the decision on the power plants. "A new board would mean we have to start all over again,'' Ms Ida said.

Egat and private operators cannot agree on issues like the period of power supply, power billing and the kind of fuel to be used by the generator.

The Energy Ministry wants them to switch from coal, a highly controversial fuel, to natural gas.




8. Funds sought for Salween power plant


Yuthana Praiwan, Bangkok Post: January 20, 2003


The construction of a hydro-power plant on the Salween River has won support from the Energy Ministry which plans to look for sources of funding for the project.

Energy Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said the Finance Ministry would be asked to consider investing in the project. Negotiations with state agencies and the Burmese government would be the next step.

Mr Pongthep said that this month he expected a final decision on whether the investment in the project would be made by the government through the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand alone, or by the authority and a private partner.

The 4,500-megawatt power plant is projected to cost as much as US$5 billion.
Three sites are under consideration. Egat is interested in building the plant on the upper
Salween River while MDX Plc, a major construction group, has an agreement with Rangoon to develop the project in the lower reaches.

Mr Pongthep said that whichever location was chosen, the generation cost would be low and the project would promote the country as an Asean electricity hub. "Thailand has a geological advantage. What we have to do now is erect more power lines.'' The project would also help establish an intra-Asean power transmission system.

At the same time, the authority would have to be privatised as scheduled by the end of next year, he said. However, the initial share offering and listing on the Stock Exchange of Thailand depended mainly on investor sentiment.




9. Feasibility study into plan for dam on Burmese border

No repeat of past mistakes, says Egat


Bangkok Post: January 23, 2003


A study will be made into the feasibility of building a major dam on the

Salween river, a natural Thai-Burmese borderline.

The House energy committee has invited Sithiporn Ratananopas, governor of

the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, to shed light on the possibility of building a dam on the Salween in Mae Sariang district, Mae Hong Son. Panel chairman Suravit Konsomboon said a feasibility study would begin soon.

The dam would cost an estimated 200 billion baht and would have a generating capacity of 4,500-5,700 megawatts of electricity. It would be able to supply power at about 90 satang per unit, as opposed to the current investment cost of 1.90 baht per unit. That would translate into a saving of up to 30 billion baht per year, Mr Suravit said. The dam, when up and running, would help secure Thailand's position as the regional power house.

The project would be of great benefit to the country but an environmental

impact assessment study had yet to be made, he said.

Mr Suravit said Egat should manage the dam to keep the retail cost of

electricity low.

The project planners would learn from the mistakes in the conception of the

Pak Moon dam and Bo Nok and Hin Krut power plant projects, which ran into

fierce public opposition.

There had been no negotiation with Burma yet on the proposed Salween dam.

That would depend on the findings of the completed feasibility study, Mr Suravit said.





10. Border remains closed after Rangoon changes mind


Shan Herald Agency for News: January 27, 2003


The border pass connecting Burma's Shan State with Chiangmai's Chiangdao District stayed sealed on the day road-building materials were be transported to the projected Tasang dam site, 160 km away, reported Hawkeye, S.H.A.N. reporter from Ban Arunothai, opposite Shan State's Mongton township:

"Military sources here are saying they were informed by the Burmese that the preparations were not in place yet," he said, calling from the border. "Even Wa gates nearby are closed since yesterday. Trucks coming to Arunothai to pick up their relatives turned back empty."

The source from Thai Sawad, that had been contracted to build a road to the dam site by the MDX, a Bangkok-based real estate and infrastructure development company that had concluded an agreement with Rangoon on 20 December on the construction of Tasang dam, confirmed the fact. "We were asked to make the entry at Tachilek (opposite Chiangrai) instead," said the source who requested his identity be withheld. "As it would entail expenses at least twice as much, our boss (Sia Ord) has decided to just sit back and wait-see."

Meanwhile, a 22-men team of Thai experts: 3 from MDX and 19 from Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, who were in the Tasang area since 21 January, have been busy erecting wooden stakes (each 3 spans in circumference and 3 cubits in length, painted white at the bottom and red at the tip) on both sides of the river, stretching 2-3 km upstream from the dam site at Tang Hseng, according to locals. "They were also measuring the depth of the river twice each day, morning and evening," said one.

An executive member of Thai-based Southeast Asia Rivers Network (SEARIN) commented that it was a sign that EGAT was yet to decide whether to "go the whole hog" on Tasarng or choose another site downstream at Weigyi, where the Salween flows between the two countries. "Rangoon would prefer a further downstream site, Hutgyi, that is well inside Burmese territory, according to our information," he said.

The financially hard hit MDX Group would need a formal Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) from EGAT in order to be eligible for loans from international finance institutions, said another Thai-based environmental group.





11. Govt `plays a role in ethnic cleansing'

Seminar told: Don't count on Rangoon


Achara Ashayagachat,  Bangkok Post: January 28, 2003


Government policy to crack down on ethnic minorities along the Thai-Burmese

border had indirectly supported Rangoon's ``ethnic cleansing'' but would not result in Burma giving drug suppression assistance, a seminar was told yesterday.

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs,

said the government's raid on human rights activists, especially of ethnic minorities along the border, was an indirect collaboration with Rangoon.Its economic failure had forced the State Peace and Development Council to depend on drug money from the Wa group. Their collusion to wipe out other ethnic groups, especially the Shan, was ignored by the United Nations, Mr

Kraisak said.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees had refused help or sanctuary to

those being harassed and deported by Thai authorities, Mr Kraisak told a seminar on "Wa: Problems and Solutions to Thailand's Security'' at Chulalongkorn University.

The Thaksin Shinawatra government had embarked on controversial mega

projects, for example the Salween Dam, which would become another excuse for ethnic cleansing as it would destroy the Shan people's land, he said.

Maung Maung, representing the Organisation of Burmese Trade Unions, said

the so-called offices of the ethnic activists recently raided by Thai authorities were, in fact, information centres. The crackdown had crippled efforts to obtain new information on human rights abuses including forced labour and the use of rape as a weapon against ethnic minorities inside Burma.

He suggested the government pursue a dual track policy -dealing with Burma

at governmental level, but also having a humanitarian policy towards ethnic minorities to find a sustainable way of eradicating drugs.

Zin Mei, a Shan representative, said the Shan people had been manipulated by drug traffickers and suffered raped by armed groups, including Burmese troops.

Unless the international community intervened in Burmese politics, drugs and ethnic cleansing would never be eradicated. "If Thailand would like to help ethnic people, why do they give assistance through the Burmese government and Wa, and not directly to other ethnic people,'' she asked.





12. Thais wary of latest Burmese blitzkrieg


Asian Tribune: January 28, 2003


Chiang Mai, Jan. 28: As Burmese offensive rages further south against Karen

rebels across Thailand's Tak Province, Thai security officials in Chiang Mai have been alerted by the Burma Army's most recent blitzkrieg, said an informed source.

Several factors of the Burmese Army's move remain mysterious:

The first was the appointment of new commanders for three battalions in the

areas adjoining Chiangmai: IB 43 (Mongpiang), IB 65 (Mongton) and LIB 360 (Mongpiang), on 19 January. One of them is Lt-Col Myint Sway of IB 65 who just came after the Pang Maisoong Battle (20 May - 20 June 2002)," he reminded thata ll of them appear to be replaced by experienced, war-weary, battlefield commanders from Kayah (Karenni) and Karen States."

Then, on 20 January, more than 20 trucks escorting two "important equipment" transported arrived in Mongton, some 50 miles from the border, on its way to Monghsat, 40 miles further east, where the Military Operations Management Command #14 is headquartered. "We have yet to find out what's in there," said the source.

Two days later, he said, the commander of IB 226 opposite Wiang Haeng District and opposing Shan State Army positions along the border, was reported personally supervising the laying of 200 mines around his Pang Maisoong Camp, which was overrun by Shan rebels last year. Hundreds of mines were also reportedly been laid across Chiangmai's other district,

Chiangdao, since the battle in June, that have killed or maimed some 30 people, according to several local sources. "6 were killed on 17 January alone," said one.

"Last but not least", he said, "it was reported yesterday that Lt-Col Khin Maung Tint, Commander of the First Engineering Battalion from Mingaladon (near Rangoon), arrived in Mongtaw (15 miles north of Pang Maisoong)". He was reportedly looking for a suitable site to establish an arsenal, according to the source.

It was reported earlier that the Burma Army was preparing for an all-out offensive against Shan strongholds along the Thai border in December which did not materialize.

But still it is speculated that, " the campaign may may still be launched after the visits by the Thai Army chief Gen Somdhat Attanant, on 31 January, and the Thai Prime Minister Dr.Thaksin Shinawatra on 9 February", a source within Burma told the SHAN.





13. Burma looks abroad to avert focus at home


Larry Jagan, Bangkok Post: January 29, 2003 


Talks with the liberal opposition look to be going nowhere, and this is sure to hurt relations with the West. So Rangoon is now fostering closer friendships with those not so concerned with such issues.

Burma's foreign minister has made an historic visit to India, which diplomats in Rangoon are attributing to the military rulers' renewed diplomatic offensive intended to disguise the failure of their secret talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Jan 19-24 visit by Win Aung was the first by a senior Burmese leader to India for more than 15 years. While in New Delhi, he met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and held talks with several key cabinet ministers, including his counterpart Jaswant Sinha.

Trade and investment were high on the agenda, but diplomats in Rangoon believe that what the visit really signified was the near collapse of talks with Ms Suu Kyi.

"The Burmese government is preparing to withstand tougher economic sanctions from the West by strengthening economic ties with its Asian neighbours,'' said a senior Western diplomat who declined to be identified.

For Win Aung though, this trip to India was most significant. Although there were few concrete results to boast about, the two foreign ministers signed a protocol, which establishes regular bilateral ministerial consultations. The two countries also agreed to strengthen cooperation on several bilateral projects, mainly in the fields of infrastructure, energy and information technology.

The two governments plan to set up a joint Business Council to help encourage greater private Indian investment in Burma. India is also considering offering Burma a considerable new commercial credit line to help Indian businessmen. The government already has a guaranteed credit line of $25 million, and government officials say this is now likely to be doubled.

"There are many Indian businesses with factories in Southeast Asia who are interested in establishing pilot projects in Burma, but so far they have been deterred by the political situation there,'' said one Indian businessman who is involved in the import and export industry. "This is likely to increase now that there is a modicum of official support for companies interested in Burma.''

One of Win Aung's main aims on this trip to India was to drum up trade and investment. "We are opening our doors to trade and investment,'' he told a conference of Indian businessmen in Delhi. ``Burma's strategic position, at the crossroads of South Asia and East Asia, meant that investors stood to reap substantial benefits from investing in Burma.''

Win Aung proposed a regional summit next year of countries involved in the regional grouping BIMST-EC, the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation forum, to further boost regional cooperation. He said that while this forum, set up more than five years ago, had opened up avenues for bilateral and multilateral cooperation in trade and economic development, more needed to be done.

"What we need is a vision for the future so that we can work together and make the whole region prosperous,'' Win Aung told the members of the Confederation of Indian Industries.

In the past few years, trade between the two countries has begun to expand rapidly. In the past 10 years, the value of bilateral trade has grown nearly eight-fold. Officially, India is now Burma's fourth most important export market, with beans, pulses and wood products being the major export items. Burma's main imports from India are pharmaceuticals, iron and steel.

But more than anything else, Rangoon is anxious to see more Indian investment in its energy sector. There is substantial Indian interest in infrastructure projects, including the completion of a major highway connecting India's northeast with Thailand, through Mandalay and Rangoon. It is also building a port, Sittwe, on the Burmese coast to help increase maritime trade.

India's leading state-run energy companies Oil and Gas Cooperation and the Gas Authority of India Ltd are involved in exploration works off Burma's west coast and are also interested in onshore exploration rights. India is also keen to access Bangladesh's huge gas reserves, but for years Dhaka has been no more than lukewarm to the proposal. Tapping into the Burmese gas fields would certainly be an incentive for India to strengthen its bilateral economic ties with Rangoon.

The Burmese foreign minister should see trade with India grow in coming year as result of this trip. In an effort to boost economic ties between the two countries, India's businessmen plan to send a delegation from their northeast to Burma to explore further cooperation. A trade and industry fair, the Made in India Show, is planned for Rangoon later this year.

But the formal results aren't as important as the strategic partnership that was clearly forged during the trip. Win Aung was greeted as a friend and given enormous attention by his hosts. He, in turn, made it clear wherever he went that Burma saw India as a major potential ally. "We regard India not only as an important neighbour but as a country with which we are linked culturally and historically,'' he said. "In some ways, India is our motherland.''

For India, this is a welcome approach to their bilateral relations. New Delhi has been anxious to improve its strategic and economic ties with Burma for some time as part of its strategy to contain China's increasing influence in Southeast Asia as a whole, and Burma in particular.

Many Indian diplomats admit privately that this is one of the main strategic objectives behind the Indian government's Look East foreign policy.

It is no coincidence either that Win Aung's visit to India came shortly after Burma's top leader, General Than Shwe, visited China. Burma is anxious not to be too reliant on any one ally. "Rangoon now sees good ties with Delhi as a way to balance their dependence on Beijing for trade, soft loans a nd military hardware,'' said a senior Asian diplomat.

There is no doubt that Rangoon is conducting a concerted campaign to improve relations with all its neighbours. Gen Than Shwe has visited both China and Bangladesh in the past two months, Win Aung has now been to India, and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will visit Rangoon in February.

Diplomats in Rangoon believe this diplomatic offensive reflects the fact that the talks with opposition leader Suu Kyi have stalled. "There is no dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council, as Burma's ruling body is called]. The process has completely stalled,'' National League for Democracy spokesman U Lwin said this week.

In light of this, the United States and Europe are considering adopting tougher economic sanctions later this year if there is still no significant political progress after United Nations envoy Razali Ismail's next visit to Burma, currently expected to take place in March.

"With the international community preoccupied with the potential conflict in Iraq, the Burmese junta think the pressure to reform is off them for the present,'' said a senior US diplomat. "It looks like they are just going to stiff it out.''

That appears to be the real reason behind Burma's diplomatic offensive. Burma's intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, has often told the United Nations envoy and other Asian leaders that Burma did not fear a full-scale boycott by the West as it would get all the aid, trade and investment it needed from its neighbours.





14. Three-fold eradication deal

Burmese premier to help monitor progress


Yuwadee Tunyasiri Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post: February 11, 2003


Thailand and Burma have agreed on ``interrelated'' frameworks of cooperation to stamp out drug production and trafficking once and for all, said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

After returning from his weekend official visit to Burma yesterday Mr Thaksin explained the drug eradication frameworks were three-fold.

First, the bilateral cooperation would be aimed at forging peace on the common border. Relentless fighting waged by Burmese ethnic minorities spurred drug trade as the rebels produced and trafficked drugs to finance the war.

The quest for a peaceful border would also need the leaders of the minority rebels at the negotiating table.

Mr Thaksin said the commercial development of border areas would also be emphasised. Job creation would also lessen the number of alien workers slipping into Thailand, and once the border population was legally employed, few would then turn to the drugs trade.

Their cooperation would also expand into a crop substitution programme whereby locals would be motivated to grow flowers and vegetables in place of drug-producing plants.

The second framework would involve a macro-economic collaboration to improve Burma's infrastructures.For example, a road would be built to link Burma with India and Bangladesh.

The State Railway of Thailand had yet to study the feasibility of rail connection with Burma through the Three Pagoda Pass in Kanchanaburi. Tourism cooperation was also to be enhanced.

On the third framework, the prime minister said a collective effort would be made to correct Burma's negative image perpetuated by drugs dealing and ethnic hostility.

A clean image in the eye of the international community would attract investment and alleviate poverty.

Once people were less poor, they would not be compelled to escape hardship by working as illegal migrant workers in Thailand.

Mr Thaksin said the three frameworks would complement one another and would present as a long-term solution to the bilateral problems that marred both countries' stability.
The premier said Rangoon was thankful that the government had provided satellite photos of drug production areas. The two governments had discussed the process and means of weeding out drugs in depth but details were kept secret.

Mr Thaksin said the dialogues had been successful and policies would be passed in close coordination down the echelons of power for implementation.

Prime Minister Gen Than Shwe would himself monitor the progress of the policy implementation, Mr Thaksin said.



15. Residents advised to move

February 14, 2003


As excavations by foreign firms on both sides of the projected dam site continued, some Burmese officers were counselling a preemptive departure of local residents in the vicinity, said sources coming to the border.

One militia leader, named withheld for his security, told villagers of Wan Sala in Mongton Township, 12 km south of Tanghseng, the Tasarng dam site, recently that he was deeply moved by the death of at least ten villagers who were killed in a series of discharges that had been going on since last month. "If you continue to stay, you will be forced to work for them with little or no pay," he said. "And in the end, after the dam is finished, you will still be thrown out of your homes anyway. You should therefore move while you still have time."

Sources said villagers nearby were sent for by the Burmese security forces in the area to haul out the earth from the holes. According to a Shan environmentalist, who visited to the site in 2000, there were 2 holes being dug out of the cliff on each side of the river, each at least 8ft in circumference and about 40ft deep. Sources who were there lately say the foreigners - Thai and Chinese - were digging further into the upper holes. It was during the diggings and blasting the death of the forced laborers occurred, they say.

Among the dead, 1 was from Palao, and 2 from Hsophsim, both villages further upstream, and the rest from Sala downstream.

Rangoon had already forcibly relocated 1,500 villages in the area, but some twenty villages still remain and the largest one appear to be Wan Sala with 57 households. In three other villages in the immediate neighborhood of the dam site: Tanghseng, Palao and Hsophsim, there are only about ten households each.

The Thais are also repairing the logging road leading from Sala to Palao, they said. Thai Sawad, a Burma-based Thai company that had been contracted to build the road confirmed the report.

Bangkok-based MDX and Burma's Ministry of Energy signed an agreement on 20 December to build the Tasarng Dam, located between Mongton and Mongpan townships of Shan State.

The project is being opposed by Shan organizations.




16. Senate wants project nixed

Concerns for human rights, environment


Kultida Samabuddhi, Bangkok Post: February 15, 2003


Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be asked to scrap a 300-billion-baht hydropower dam project on the Salween river, the Senate foreign affairs said.

"The project would cause great damage to Thailand,'' said panel chairman Kraisak Choonhavan, citing concerns about environmental impacts and human rights violations.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand is expected to build the dam and eight power plants in Mae Sariang district, Mae Hong Son.

Senators will on Tuesday discuss Thailand's stand on development projects on the international rivers which it shares with its neighbours. These projects include a 3,000-megawatt hydropower dam on the Salween river, a natural borderline between Thailand and Burma, and the blasting of rapids for navigation in the Mekong river on the Thai-Lao border.

Mr Thaksin would be informed of the outcome of the discussion next week.

Egat governor Sithiporn Rattanopas, who met the panel on Wednesday, said the Salween dam project was economically viable even though Thailand would have to shoulder all construction costs.

"When the project is completed in 2012, Thais will enjoy a lower price of electricity, at 0.90 baht per unit, or a saving of around 31 billion baht a year,'' Mr Sithiporn said.

He added that the Energy, Finance, and Environment ministers had all agreed on Jan 29 to give the project a go-ahead.

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry has volunteered to make an assessment study of the project's environmental impacts.

Initially, Egat would set aside 10 million baht to support the environmental impact assessment study, to be headed by natural resources and environment permanent secretary Plodprasop Suraswadi.

The dam would inundate around 20,000 rai of lush forest in the Salween wildlife sanctuary in Thailand, the Egat governor said. However, Egat had no idea how the project would affect Burma's ethnic groups and forest.

"The information on the Salween dam is incomplete because it has come from desk research,'' he said.

"No one could survey the dam site and conduct any field study unless the governments of both countries formally agree to develop the project.''