By: Our Correspondent

More than 20 mega-dams are being constructed or planned on Burma's major
rivers, including the Salween and Irrawaddy, by multinationals without
consulting local communities, a wide range of NGOs charged in a
statement Friday. In addition, the group charged, mining, oil and gas
projects are creating severe environmental and social problems.

Several
papers are to be delivered on Sept. 18 in an all-day seminar in Bangkok
on the impact and consequences of overseas investment in large-scale
projects in Burma that say as many as 30 companies from China alone are
investing in dam projects on the two rivers.

The NGOs include
Towards Ecological Recovery; the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in
Burma, the Shan Women Action Network; the Pa-O Youth Organization,
Arakan Oil Watch, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland and the Burma
Rivers Network.

On the Salween, according to the group, Thai,
Burmese and Chinese investors are planning to build at least six dams,
including the Ta Sang and Hutgyi dams, which will produce electricity to
be sold to the Asean power grid.

"It has been well documented
that dams in Burma exacerbate conflict, cause forced displacement and
threaten biodiversity," the group said in a prepared release. "Several
Asean actors, including from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, are
involved in gas exploration and extraction in Burma. The Yadana and
Yetagun gas projects, which provide fuel for 20 percent of Thailand's
electricity, have been linked to forced relocation, forced labor,
torture and extrajudicial killings."

In addition, the activists
said, South Korean, Indian and Chinese companies are financing and
constructing new trans-Burma oil and gas pipelines that have already led
to the loss of peoples' livelihoods and various forms of violence.

Large-scale
mining of coal, iron and other minerals and gems by foreign investors
is devastating areas of agricultural importance and rich biodiversity.
Thai companies are planning to import 1.5 million metric tons of lignite
annually for 30 years from Mong Kok, an active conflict zone in eastern
Shan State, while Russian and Italian companies are involved in a
massive iron mining project that will displace thousands of people and
pollute agricultural waterways near the Shan capital of Taunggyi.

Currently, the largest foreign investors in Burma are Thailand, Singapore, China and the UK, according to the release.

"As
the largest investor, Thailand invested a total value of US$7.4 billion
in 59 projects during the period 1989 to 2008, equivalent to 47 percent
of the total foreign direct investment in Burma," the group said. "The
UK and Singapore ranked as second and third largest investors, investing
US$1.86 billion in 17 projects and US$1.5 billion in 71 projects
respectively."

China is also emerging as major investor in Burma,
with US$1.8 billion invested as of January 2009. Most of the benefits
go to the Burmese military regime and investing companies, while the
people of Burma gain little, the group argued. In Burma, they said,
"there are no accountability or transparency mechanisms. "

"The
social and environmental costs of these projects are borne
disproportionately by the most vulnerable groups of people living near
the projects, including women and indigenous peoples, and have caused
increased flows of refugees and migrants to neighboring countries."

The
group called on the international community, particularly Asean, to
recognize the social and environmental threat from the development.
"Asean needs to review its heavy focus on trade and investment,
recognize the differing political and economic situations of Asean
member countries," the group said, "and promote equal benefit-sharing
and sustainable development, especially with regard to the region's
shared natural resource base."

The group also called on Asean to
develop an effective legal framework that requires full corporate social
and environmental accountability to reduce the social and environmental
consequences of their investments in natural resource extraction
projects, including large-scale hydropower dams, and mining, oil and gas
project as well as to develop an extractive industry framework to guide
member countries; governance of their resources.