52 organisations from Burma call for an end to the blasting of the Mekong rapids
December 12, 2002
To: The Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, Bangkok
Our organisations, representing grassroots communities and people's movements from Burma, are writing to express our concern over the Mekong Navigation Channel Improvement Project.
We are strongly opposed to this project, which does not represent the interests of the people of Burma or many of the other peoples in the region. We believe the project will do great and unacceptable harm to millions of people living along the river as well as to the natural environment.
The plans for the blasting of the rapids and shoals of the river have been drawn up in agreement with the illegitimate military government of Burma, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and without consultation with affected communities.
In the natural resource rich ethnic areas of Burma, including the Mekong watershed, the Burmese military regime has ruthlessly suppressed the local peoples. These areas have become highly militarized, and the Burmese Army regularly commits human rights abuses against ethnic civilians, including forced labour, land confiscation, extortion, torture, sexual violence and extra judicial killing.
In Eastern Shan State, the eastern boundary of which is formed by the Mekong River, such abuses are commonplace, and are compounded by the presence of local militias who, in return for cooperation with the junta, are allowed private business concessions. Such concessions include rights to exploit natural resources and to produce drugs. Local ethnic villagers, including Akha, Lahu, Loi La, En and Shan, remain impoverished, while the natural resources, such as timber and gold, are being ravaged for the benefit of the armed elites.
It is certain that the Mekong Navigation Channel Improvement Project, if implemented in conjunction with the current military regime of Burma, will benefit only the military and business elites. They alone control the trade in the area, and the increased transportation opportunities will simply enable them to speed up the devastation of Eastern Shan State's natural resources. Already, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate, with no environmental controls whatsoever.
Apart from the increased exploitation of natural resources which will ensue from the project, we are deeply concerned about the irreversible impacts that the blasting of the rapids in the Mekong will have on fisheries, the ecology of the river as a whole, and on the livelihoods of the local people who depend on it. The environmental impact assessment which was conducted for this project has been strongly criticized for serious flaws, failing to take into account the real impacts. The Burmese military has paid no attention to these environmental impacts, while other governments and institutions party to the project have not given environmental sustainability the priority it deserves.
We believe that any decisions to develop an area should be taken in consultation with affected local peoples, and that there should be widespread consensus amongst them. Until the peoples of Burma are granted the right to participate in decisions affecting their land and resources, no international development agreements should be entered into with the Burmese regime, especially ones with such serious and permanent effects.
We therefore demand an immediate halt to the Mekong Navigation Channel Improvement Project until the following conditions are met:
· Full and adequate Environmental and Social Impact Assessments involving affected communities, independent academics, civil society organizations and representatives from all the affected countries should be completed and publicly disseminated
· All potentially impacted communities should be fully informed about the effects of the blasting; they should be consulted with and the consensus of the majority obtained.
· The blasting should have agreement between all the countries that the Mekong passes through, including Cambodia and Vietnam.
· The approval of the legitimately elected representatives of the people of Burma, not only the military authorities, must be sought and given for the project.
· Alternatives modes of transport that give training and employment to more local people should be seriously investigated rather than the use of large ships.
All Burma Muslim Union
All Burma Students' Democratic Front
Arakan Liberation Party
Burma Medical Association
Democratic Party for a New Society
Green November 32
Human Rights Foundation of Monland
Images Asia - Environment Desk
Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
Karen Student Network Group
Karen Youth Organisation
Karenni Farmers' Union
Karenni Human Rights Legal Education Team
Karenni Information Network Group
Karenni Literacy Committee
Karenni National Women's Organisation
Karenni National Youth Organisation
Karenni Students' Union
Karenni Social Welfare Committee
Karenni Teachers' Union
Lahu National Development Organisation
National Committee for Civil Society
National League for Democracy (Liberated Area)
National Reconciliation Program
Nationalities Youth Development Program
Network for Democracy and Development
Palaung Youth Network Group
People's Liberation Front
People's Progressive Front
Shan Democratic Union
Shan Herald Agency for News
Shan Human Rights Foundation
Shan Sapawa Organisation
Shan State Organisation
Shan Youth Network Group
Shan Youth Power Media Team
Students and Youth Congress of Burma
United Nationalities League for Democracy (Liberated Area)
Wa National Organisation
Women's League of Burma, comprising 11 groups:
All Burma Democratic Lushai Women's Organisation
Burmese Women's Union
Chin Women's Organisation
Kachin Women's Association (Thailand)
Karen Women's Organisation
Lahu Women's Organisation
Pa-O Women's Union
Rakhine Women's Union
Shan Women's Action Network
Tavoyan Women's Union
Women's Rights and Welfare Association of Burma
cc: The Ambassador of the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, Bangkok
Mr. Praphat Panyachartrak, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand