Recent developments along the Salween “Joint development will make border areas more open and help eliminate bad people, minority people and bad things hidden along the border and ensure greater security.” Thai Deputy Prime Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyud (Bangkok Post, 27 November 2002) Until the beginning of 2002, Thai and Burmese troops stationed along the Salween did not have close relations. Thai boats traveling along the Salween River were often shot at by Burmese troops. However, since 2003, the Thai and Burmese army units stationed along the border seem to be enjoying a closer relationship. This may be linked to the plans to build the dam. In particular, the Burmese Army’s Southeastern Regional Command (in control of Papun) has developed closer relations with Thai Army Task Force 36 based along the Salween River. Local sources say that in mid-2003 (prior to the ceasefire talks between KNU and the regime that began later that year) KNU leaders were told by Thai authorities not to launch any military attacks against the Burmese troops along the Salween border. On the Burma side, since 2002, many SPDC garrisons along the Salween river bank, usually on strategic mountain peaks, have been fortified and fenced with barbed wire, and surrounded by landmines. Heavy artillery has also been installed there. According to KNU military sources, there are 120 mm mortars at the bases at the bases at Maw Rit Kyo (close to Wei Gyi), Ler Toe (close to Dar Gwin) and Maw Mo Kyo (close to the Salween-Moei river junction) Roads have also been improved for transportation of troops’ supplies. 61
62 DAMMING AT GUNPOINT In March 9, 2004, the Thai Army facilitated a trip for their Burmese army counterparts to the Thai town of Maesariang, in southern Mae Hong Son province. In this border area, hitherto there had been no formal border committee between the two countries, as at other border trade points. The last feasibility study of the sites was conducted in November 2003 by EGAT. Local KNU authorities tried to prevent the team from conducting the survey. A local woman activist described their efforts to stop the survey: “We put up a signboard “No Dam” as a protest on our raft hut. One Thai commander came and asked us to take it down. He said, ‘This is not good. If the Burmese come, I will not allow you people to escape to the Thai side’”. Interview with a member of Salween Eyes, March 2004 Such threats place the local KNU administration in a difficult position in relation to the dam issue. “It [the dam] is really a headache. In previous years, the IDPs in our areas used to cross the border [into Thailand] when the enemies came. Now, if we do not cooperate with them [Thai soldiers], maybe the consequences will be like what they (the Thai soldiers) said.” Interview KNDO commander in the area, March 2004 The latest KNU-SPDC ceasefire talks started in November 2003. The KNU proposed the withdrawal of Burmese troops and garrisons in the Papun District area to allow the resettlement of IDPs to their home village sites, but the Burmese army has not accepted the proposal, and justified their presence in terms of ‘national security.’ In fact, their motive in controlling the area is clearly to facilitate and profit from border trade and the building of the Salween dam. A villager staying in a village on the Salween River informed the KRW: “A Burmese commander came a few months ago and the commander asked us to pray for the construction of the dam to be materialised as soon as possible.” Interview with Klaw Hta Villager, September 2003 However, far from heeding this advice, on March 16, 2004, over 100 Karen villagers from nearby communities travelled to the Wei Gyi dam site and conducted an animist ceremony to call on the local spirits to protect the river.