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Thousands of Karen threatened of displacement by building of great dams

Bolzano/Bozen, Göttingen, Berlin, 28. June 2006

The Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) warned on Wednesday of the displacement of up to 100,000 members of the Nationalities of the Karen, Shan and Karreni for the construction of four high dams on the Salween River in the east of Burma. "The smallest of the ethnic group of the Yintalai, which numbers only 1,000 people, is threatened by extinction through the massive project because their entire habitat will be destroyed", reported the GfbV Asia correspondent, Ulrich Delius. 96 villages on the Salween have already been compulsorily evacuated and destroyed. The dams are planned to provide up to 16,000 megawatts of energy and above all to supply electricity to Thailand. It was reported from Peking on Tuesday that they are to be built by the state Chinese construction company Sinohydro together with the state Thai energy office EGAT. Sinohydro also plays a major part in the construction of the controversial Merowe dam in the Sudan.

Since the army has for years been carrying out compulsory migration almost three quarters of the previous 85 villages in the construction area of the Weigyi dam have already disappeared from the map, said Delius. 28 villages are still to be flooded and 30,500 people driven out. In the area in the lower part of the 2,400 km long Salween the military presence has been drastically increased. Previously the Burmese army had only ten bases there, but now there are 54 military camps armed with heavy artillery.

On the orders of the soldiers Karen people were recruited as compulsory workers on road-building in areas which were covered with land-mines. Most of the Karen living in this fertile area fled to the neighbouring country of Thailand for fear of the army. But about 5000 Karen are still hiding in the woods. They are suffering from lack of food and medicaments. The Karen, who are in the main Christians, and other nationalities in the multi-national country have been struggling since 1948 for the granting of autonomy which had been promised them. In the spring of 2006 Burma began the displacement of 15,000 Karen with a new military offensive.

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