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Damming at gunpoint(English Version)

Dams and the Burmese

Dams and the Burmese military regime’s border development programs “Construction of infrastructure throughout the country has boosted the Union spirit and patriotism.” SPDC Gen. Maung Aye, 22 Aug 1999 (broadcast on the BBC) The issue of “development” has been key to the propaganda strategy of the Burmese military regime. By continually stressing in the state-controlled media that it is committed to the “development” of the nation, and by citing the completion of infrastructure projects as proof of this, it seeks to distract people from the urgency of the need for political reform and their right to participate in decision-making during the development process. Since 1989, the regime has also used the promise of “development” to help convince various ethnic armies to sign ceasefire agreements. The strategy of persuading the ethnic groups to sign ceasefires was led by the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI). Under the agreements, the ethnic armies have been granted no political concessions, but have merely been allowed limited control of certain areas and various economic concessions. The aim has been to lure the groups into becoming business-oriented, thereby eroding their commitment to their original political goals, and neutralizing their resistance movements. As part of this strategy, in May 1989, the Burmese military regime formed the Development of Border Areas and National Races Committee (DBANR), and it began carrying out its Border Area Development (BAD) program. The program has consisted largely of infrastructure projects, which has conveniently facilitated strategic access by the Burmese army into the ethnic areas. 65% of the regime’s ‘Border Area Development’ budget is for roads and bridges, with little directed towards health and education. (Global Witness, October 2003, “A Conflict of Interest: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests”) 9

10 DAMMING AT GUNPOINT The ceasefire agreements and infrastructure development have facilitated the rapid exploitation of natural resources, such as timber and minerals, in the ethnic areas by the regime, and their sale to neighbouring countries. The regime has been able to earn huge revenues from the sale of natural gas to Thailand, following the construction of the Yadana gas pipeline to Thailand. The pipeline construction was made possible by the ceasefire agreement between the Mon resistance army and the regime. The sale of resources to its neighbours has enabled the regime to continue building up its military infrastructure and intensify military offensives against the remaining active resistance armies. During 1989–1992, precisely while the regime was implementing its ceasefire strategy with armed groups in Shan State, it was launching full-scale attacks against resistance bases of the Karen National Union (KNU) and managed to capture most of the KNU-controlled areas. It can be seen that the regime’s plans to exploit the water resources in the Salween River, by building dams and selling hydropower to Thailand, fit into its ongoing strategy of subjugating the ethnic areas and exploiting the natural resources there. Since 1992, the regime has been seeking to establish control over Karen State, by repeated military offensives against the Karen resistance, and by targeting civilian populations under anti-insurgency campaigns. However the KNU have not yet been pacified. By pushing joint plans with the Thai government to build the dams on the Salween River, the regime is clearly hoping to further cement its official economic links with Thailand and garner Thai support to either crush the Karen resistance or force the KNU to reach a ceasefire agreement.

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