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Tension mounts over Myanmar dam project
Publication Date : 06-05-2013
The Myanmar government’s order to Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) to move out of the Hatkyi dam project area has mounted tension in Kayin state, according to DKBA officials. The Karen forces were to withdraw by noon yesterday.
"The government army sent us a telegraph asking the troops being stationed in Kyonhtaw and Meezai to move out by noon of May 4. We cannot retreat any more. We have already withdrawn from Myainggyingu. The current place in fact was designated by the government, they said.
“If we move from the place again, we will be in Thailand," a DKBA official told the Eleven Media Group.
The commander of South East Command ordered the movement of DKBA troops from areas via the commandant of Brigade-22. The DKBA received the telegram on May 2 giving the reason for regional clearance operations in the dam project area.
The bout of tension comes after clashes between a border guard force formed with DKBA members and Major General Saw La Pwe-led DKBA (Breakaway) on April 27 and 28.
“The clashes broke out on 27th and 28th last month. The seized weapons were acquired after negotiations for two days. But after that, the government army ordered troop withdrawals,” the DKBA official said.
The DKBA formerly known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (also DKBA), which emerged in December 1994 after a separation from the Karen National Union. After its inception, the DKBA's base was designated in Myainggyingu as a special region by the government of the State Law and Order Restoration Council.
DKBA's chairman then was Tha Htoo Kyaw under the patronage of the venerable Myainggyingu Buddhist monk.
Its members were invited to attend the National Convention as representatives.
The government took DKBA assistance when it was in a military operation to take over the KNU’s headquarter in Manalpalaw in 1995. The DKBA also played a major role in attacking many KNU stations.
Brigade-5 leader Maj-Gen Saw La Pwe formed a Democratic Karen Benevolent Army after breaking away from the former Democratic Karen Buddhist Association in 2010. His headquarter is located in Hsonehseemyaing region in Myawady township of Kayin State. It was active in the townships of Phayathonesu, Hlinebwe, Kyainseik and Marnalpalaw.
The DKBA reached cease-fire agreement with the government in 2011 after clashes with the government troops in Myawady during the election in 2010. Later, the DKBA was allowed to station in Hsonehseemyaing after its troops had transformed themselves into a border guard force with the support of the government.
The clashes between the DKBA and the border guard force broke out in some townships of Myainggyingu region of Hlinebwe township on April 27 and 28.
Saw La Pwe's DKBA Brigade-5 reportedly has about 1500 troops. Tension started when his troops seized about 40 guns from the border guard force.
According to the DKBA, its troops were informed to withdraw because the Hatkyi dam project would be jointly implemented by Myanmar, China and Thailand, not the clashes with the border guard force.
"Their plan might be a ploy to kick us out of the region as we oppose the project,” the DKBA official said.
Some sources say the military is likely to move the existing DKBA stations to Mepa and Mekasaw areas in Myainggyingu region.
"We cannot move at all and we don't accept the dam project either. The entire public cannot accept the project. It is also environmentally unacceptable," the official said.
The project site lies 29 miles downstream from the confluence of the Thanlwin river and Thaungyin river. It is a joint venture of five Chinese companies, including Sinohydro Co, Thailand's EGAT and Goldwater Resources Ltd, International Group of Entrepreneurs Co Ltd (IGE) and Shwe Taung Co from Myanmar.
The Thanlwin river, one of the world's longest rivers, was recognised by the UNESCO as a global heritage landscape in 2012. No dam has been built in the river.
Local people and environmentalist groups protested against the dam project as soon as its environmental impact assessments started.
The DKBA troops were asked to move as the government began carrying out preparatory work for the project.
"We want peace. We don't have plans to disrupt peace. We are not prepared for war. They (the government) don’t show any move either except for an increase in the strength of its troops,” the DKBA official told the EMG Saturday.
However, KNU (Karen National Union) and KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) will not stand aside if the government army launches offensive to force the DKBA troops out, the DKBA official quoted colonel Saw Ae` Kaw Htoo (Tiger) from the KNU/KNLA's peace council as saying.
In 2011, the Myanmar military launched attacks on Kachin Independence Army troops in Kachin state for security reasons for Tapein hydropower station project, which was the forerunner of a cancelled controversial Myitsone dam project.
Political analysts said that Myanmar's national solidarity and democratisation could be affected if the government's offensive against the KIA happened again.