Mega-Development Project Contributed to Recent Fighting in Northern Shan State, SHRF Says

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) has pointed out that the area in northern Shan State’s Kyaukme Township where clashes have taken place between the Burma Army and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) is near the site of the Upper Yeywa hydropower dam on the Namtu River.

A local man was killed in Pan Kyan village and a woman was injured in the fighting, which occurred at the end of June. Another man was beaten by Burma Army soldiers and nearly 600 people were displaced in the fighting, according to SHRF.

The fact that this military violence broke out just 10 miles from a mega-development project site must not go unrecognized, SHRF representatives have said.

“The project is located in a conflict affected area,” Sai Yawd Leun, who works with SHRF, told NMG. “Mega-development projects cause military tension. When a project starts in a certain area, the army comes to the area to provide security for the project and the investment company. Because of this, the army and ethnic armed organizations have military tension. Armed conflict is connected to natural resources.”

There are up to five ethnic armed organizations active in the area of the Upper Yeywa, he added.

Sai Yawd Leun said that SHRF is “demanding justice for the deaths” of civilians in northern Shan State, and highlighted the suffering of locals who have had to flee their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SHRF released a statement on July 9 stating that they “strongly condemn the government’s army for committing torture, abuse and violence.”

On June 24, the RCSS informed the Burma Army of activities they were holding to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26 near Hae Kwee village, near the Upper Yeywa dam. Clashes then followed throughout the last week of June.

SHRF reports indicate that soldiers from LIB 256 under LID 101 interfered with the RCSS’s plans to hold the event. The two forces then exchanged gunfire in southern Kyaukme Township.

The Burma Army then reportedly sent reinforcement troops from IBs 22, 101, and 147 to attack the RCSS.

“It’s not the right time for either international or domestic companies to invest during peace building in the country,” Sai Yawd Leun said. “All stakeholders are trying to restore peace in the country. Clashes are occurring at the moment, so companies need to leave. If a mega-development project starts, the government and companies will profit… Armed conflict is connected to these mega projects. That’s why there is military tension and clashes,” he explained.

SHRF has stated that the Burma Army appears to be more concerned with the security of these development sites than of civilians in conflict areas.

Citing the ongoing civil war and the lack of both revenue transparency and local decision-making power, ethnic civil society organizations including SHRF have demanded that the Burmese government halt all mega-development projects in ethnic regions, including the Upper Yeywa hydropower dam, until there is genuine peace and a federal constitution in place in Burma.