Asia

Burma halts construction of Thai-backed power plant

A sign indicating the special economic zone in Dawei, Burma, on 19 November, 2011
Image caption The site near Dawei in southern Burma is earmarked for a special economic zone and deep sea port

The Burmese authorities have halted the construction of a Thai-backed power station, citing concerns over pollution and the environment.

The decision on the coal-fired plant at Dawei comes four months after the controversial Chinese-funded Myitsone hydroelectric dam was halted.

The move is seen as another indication of burgeoning political and economic reforms.

The announcement came from Minister for Electricity Khin Maung Soe.

Speaking to reporters in Rangoon, he said that the decision to stop construction of the power station had been taken after "listening to the people's voice and reading the concerns about the environmental impact of this plant in local media reports".

The 4,000-megawatt plant would have formed part of the huge Dawei development on Burma's southern coastline and activists had warned the project could trigger an influx of "dirty" industry.

"This is intriguing as there had been no real public campaign on the same scale as for Myitsone," said Aung Zaw, the editor of the Thailand-based Irrawaddy magazine.

"This is a pre-emptive move from a government that is increasingly worried about public opinion and stability."

More engagement

The designers of the Dawei Development Project say the opening of the deep sea port and the subsequent development will provide a new east-west trade route, allowing goods from China a land shortcut on their way to European markets.

Plans for the $50bn (£32bn) industrial zone include road and rail links, a fertiliser plant and an oil refinery.

The decision on the power plant comes as the international community continue to deepen their engagement with the once isolated nation.

On Monday, Australia announced that it was easing some of its sanctions as a response to political reforms introduced by the new military-backed civilian government.

Last week William Hague became the first British foreign secretary in more than 50 years to visit Burma. His trip followed on from one by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state.

Both came as part of efforts to encourage the Burmese authorities towards further reforms and the release of political prisoners.

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