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05 November 2009 

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Minority Communities Say Burma Development Projects Lead to Abuses, Environmental Damage

05 November 2009

Minority communities in Burma say the exploitation of the country's natural resources is damaging the environment and increasing the military presence in their areas. The activists say greater public participation is necessary in the development process to ensure that communities benefit.

The Burma Environmental Group says the government's development policies and efforts to extract natural resources have destroyed the homes of thousands of people in border areas and is increasing hunger among ethnic minority groups. On Thursday, the group released a report saying there are more troops in minority areas and environmental damage is spreading.

The group includes representatives from the Kachin, Karen, Lahu, and Shan ethnic communities in Burma. Most of these communities live in Burma's border areas.

Saw Paul Sein Twa, Director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
Saw Paul Sein Twa, Director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
Saw Paul Sein Twa is the director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network. He says development projects have displaced half a million people because their livelihoods are disrupted. Thousands of them have fled to Thailand.

"So the path that the military government is taking us is to environmental problems, lead us to crisis and will further marginalize our ethnic people who are in the rural areas," he said. "So you can see that many people are in refugee camps, as I said, more than 8,000 people in one area are facing starvation."

The report accuses the Burmese military of human rights abuses against local communities, including beatings, killings, and sexual violence, as it protects economic projects.

The group and other rights organizations have called on the Chinese government to halt its investment in an offshore oil and gas project, and seeks a halt in several dam projects.

Saw Paul Sein Twa says the groups do not oppose development in general but say public participation and is needed before projects go ahead.

"The fundamental question is development for whom? [This] needs to be addressed," he said. "The local people have to benefit from any development project and number two is people participation in this development process must be assured that people participate. Before you start an environmental impact statement must be done."

The report says as long as Burma remains under military rule and communities can not take part in decision-making, increased development in the border region will accelerate environmental destruction and lead to unsustainable and inequitable development.

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