Yangon: Myanmar`s president on Friday called for a controversial Chinese-backed hydroelectric dam project to be halted in the country`s north, a rare and surprising concession to opponents that was welcomed by the nation`s pro-democracy movement and environmentalists.
President Thein Sein said in a statement read out on his behalf at Parliament that the USD 3.6 billion Myitsone dam
project in Kachin state should be terminated because "it is against the will of the people."
It was not immediately clear when or how the project could be halted, however.
Either way, the call marks a startling turnaround for the government.
Earlier this month, Electric Power Minister Zaw Min vowed the project would go ahead despite swelling opposition that looked set to put the government on a collision course with the nation`s democracy movement.
Environmental activists have said the dam the construction of which has already begun would displace countless villagers and upset the ecology of one of the country`s most vital national resources, the Irrawaddy River.
It will also submerge a culturally important site in the ethnic Kachin heartland where the Malikha and Maykha rivers meet to form the Irrawaddy.
The Myitsone dam would export about 90 percent of electric power it generates to neighbouring China, according to the government. The vast majority of Myanmar`s residents, meanwhile, have no electricity.
"This is the first time in 50 years that the government has given in to the wishes of the people," said Dr Than Tut Aung, a prominent publisher who is also one of the leading advocates of the "Save the Irrawaddy" campaign.