Junta calls for hydropower investors 

The junta simultaneously opened bidding on six hydropower projects throughout the country on Tuesday in an attempt to expand the sector, which has been long protested by the public and civil society for causing environmental degradation, land grabs and armed conflict. 

According to a former officer from the electricity ministry, two of the sites are located in Kachin State—Peng In Kha and Ka Hseng—and two in eastern Shan State: Nam Mei Hseng and Nam Kan. There is also one in Karenni (Kayah) State, Nam Ta Bat—believed to be the largest of the six projects—and one in Mandalay Region, A Htet Si Taw Gyi. 

The deadline for pitches by investors is November 18, according to the junta announcement, which did not detail the exact locations of the projects or how many megawatts of electricity the proposed dams are expected to produce. 

“The majority are just small ones, only generating 20-25 megawatts. Only the one at Nam Ta Bat will produce around 240 megawatts,” the former officer, who worked on hydropower projects, told Myanmar Now. 

He said that a Chinese company had previously worked alongside the Htoo Group of companies, owned by notorious crony Tay Za, on some of the projects in question, but Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the claim. 

The officer added that Tuesday’s call for investors appeared to be the junta’s first attempt at launching or reviving hydropower projects since the coup. 

Military-controlled media reported in January that coup leader Min Aung Hlaing had made an official visit to the Yeywa Dam in Kyaukse, Mandalay Region, with the junta mouthpiece describing the project as “invaluable” to the country. In a thinly veiled blow to the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD), the article criticised “democratic governments” for the alleged political exploitation of environmental concerns that slowed the expansion of hydropower initiatives. 

In February last year, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) reported that workers from the Upper Yeywa dam site in northern Shan State joined anti-coup protests, identifying themselves as the “Upper Yeywa Hydropower Project Civil Disobedience Movement.” The public display of dissent was believed to have been quashed by their employers and local military authorities. 

SHRF called on international backers to withdraw from such projects, saying it “was not the right time to invest in the country.”

The Upper Yeywa dam, like many others on major rivers particularly in ethnic states, was built under previous military administrations led by generals Ne Win and Than Shwe. Local communities around dam sites have long objected to the environmental degradation, land grabs, militarisation, human rights abuses and widespread displacement resulting from the implementation of such projects, for which they were not meaningfully consulted.

Former president and general Thein Sein halted the China-backed multi-billion dollar Myitsone hydropower dam at the confluence of the Ayeyarwady River in Kachin State in 2011 after a nationwide movement emerged opposing the project. 

In the years prior to the coup, ethnic civil society organisations repeatedly called for a moratorium on mega-development projects until a federal constitution was in place and there had been an end to decades of civil war with the Myanmar military.

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