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Amid Burma (Myanmar) election, China-built dam highlights plight of ethnic minorities

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The project is due for completion by 2017 and would eventually displace about 10,000 people and flood an area the size of New York City. Most of the power will be exported to energy-hungry China, which is also building an ambitious pipeline to transport crude oil and offshore gas from southwest Burma.

Eyeing Burma's resources

Other keen buyers of Burma’s resources include India, Thailand, and South Korea. Approved foreign investment in the first seven months of the year rose to $16 billion, according to official data, up from less than $1 billion in 2007. Western companies generally steer clear of Burma, which is subject to United States, Canadian, and European sanctions.

Kachin groups have unsuccessfully petitioned both the Chinese government and Burma’s military rulers to halt the dam. It poses a safety risk, some argue, because of its location near a major earthquake fault line. Any collapse in the dam’s basin would threaten the Kachin capital, Myitkyina, which lies down river, and those living in its hinterland.

“If the project is really for the people, we will be happy. But I don’t think it will be for the betterment of our community,” says an academic in Myitkyina, who requested anonymity out of fear of the government.

The bombings in April, which reportedly killed four workers, were not the first security alert here. In 2008, armed troops from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a rebel group, reportedly extorted taxes from Chinese workers at the site. Tensions between the KIO and Burma’s military rulers have risen sharply in the run-up to the election after the KIO refused to turn its troops over to the military’s control.

Environmental and spiritual significance

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