Burma activists' joy as plug pulled on $2bn dam

Chinese project would have flooded an area the size of Singapore

Burma's government has called a halt to work on a multibillion-dollar dam project on the Irrawaddy river that activists claimed would displace thousands of people and threaten the ecology of one of the world's major water systems.

In a statement read out on his behalf before the country's fledgling parliament, President Thein Sein said work on the Chinese-backed Myitsone hydro-power dam project in the northern state of Kachin was to be suspended because it was "against the will of the people". He said no work would proceed as long as he remained in his post.

"We have to honour the wishes of the people and we have to consider and settle the concerns of the people," the statement said.

The decision threw activists and campaigners off balance. For months they had been waging a battle against the dam, saying it could have untold environmental and human costs. The opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed last year after seven years of house arrest, was among those who voiced concern, suggesting that at least 20,000 people would be affected.

Last night, campaigners said they were encouraged by the government's announcement, but pointed out that the 6,000-megawatt Myitsone dam, which would have flooded an area the size of Singapore, is one of seven dams being planned in Burma on tributaries of the Irrawaddy, all of which could have a considerable impact.

"If the Myitsone project is indeed cancelled, this would be a great victory for the people of Burma, especially the brave villagers at the Myitsone site who stood up to the Burma army and refused to make way for the project," said the Burma Rivers Network, which is based in Thailand. However, the organisation pointed out that the site was still controlled by China Power Investment, a Beijing-based company building the dam.

"There needs to be an official statement by [the company] announcing this, and the Myitsone construction camps must be closed. Most importantly, the people who were forced to move must be allowed to return to their homes," the Burma Rivers Network added. The dam was to have been 152m (500ft) long and 152m high, and was expected to cost £2.3bn. It would have been an important source of income for Burma, which would have sold around 90 per cent of the electricity produced to China.

Last month, Ms Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, wrote an open later opposing the project. She said: "Ecological changes to the Irrawaddy would impact all those whose lives are connected to the great river, from the ethnic peoples in the northernmost state of our country to the rice-growing communities of the delta. To conserve the Irrawaddy is to protect our economy and our environment as well as to safeguard our national heritage."

Pitaporn Deetes, a spokeswoman for International Rivers, said last night that it was too early to describe the decision by the Burmese authorities as a victory. "I think it is important to see what steps the Burmese authorities are taking," she said. "Postponing one dam might not mean anything."

Activists said that as well as displacing people, the project would threaten the ecology of one of the country's most vital resources. It would also submerge a culturally important site in the ethnic Kachin heartland, where the Malikha and Maykha rivers meet to form the Irrawaddy.

The announcement by the government caught most observers by surprise. Thein Sein was made President in March after the military junta announced that it was disbanding and putting in place a civilian regime. Many Western commentators say that the government remains dominated by retired military officers and is at best a proxy for the old regime. About 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars.

However, the authorities have taken steps to improve their image. For example, an interview with Ms Suu Kyi appeared in a Burmese publication for the first time this summer.

And yesterday, the 64-year-old held her third meeting with a government minister, Aung Kyi. Those who are looking for change say this is a sign of a continuing dialogue. Welcoming the decision to stop the dam, Ms Suu Kyi told the Associated Press news agency: "All governments should listen to the voices of the people."

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape