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Save the Salween and other excerpts

Subject: Save the Salween and other excerpts from new frontiers!

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Excerpts from: NEW FRONTIERS
Monthly Briefing on Tourism, Development and
Environment Issues in the Maekhong Subregion
Vol. 1, No. 5, September 1995

Contact TERRA


 FORESTS, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and 'exotic' ethnic
peoples have attracted high numbers of visitors to northern
Thailand, and overland tours to neighbouring Burma and
Laos have been increasingly promoted.  In an attempt to
mitigate the negative impacts of tourism, the Tourism
Authority of Thailand (TAT) has begun to promote more
ecologically and culturally sensitive trekking tours which
promise nature - lovers "an educational, enjoyable, and
extraordinary trip for once in your lifetime".  A glossy TAT
brochure, including maps and illustrations of a native forest,
wildlife, and a forest calendar, gives advice to responsible
travellers to wilderness areas and hilltribe villages.  This can
be considered as a good start to tackle the serious tourism
problems which have been mounting over many years.  But
while the TAT now requests visitors to leave "only footprints
in the forest" and "never take anything out of the forest except
some beautiful photos and an extraordinary memory", tourists
will probably not know that ecological disaster is just around
the corner in the northern borderlands.

The Thai government, partly in cooperation with Burma's
State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), is
planning a series of major water management schemes to
increase electricity and water supplies for Thailand.  In
particular, water drawn from the Salween River and its
tributaries would be delivered to the drought-crippled
Bhumibhol Dam and Chao Phaya River system.  Yingphan
Manasikarn, the newly appointed Minister of Science,
Technology and Environment, announced in July that both
national and international water development and diversion
projects - especially those in the Salween River basin - would
be the first priority for his administration.

By March 1995, TERRA had identified a total of 23 dams (!)
proposed for the Salween watershed in Burma and Thailand's
border provinces Tak, Mae Hong Son, and Chiang Mai.  Five
water diversion projects - the Ram Yuam and Mae Lama
Luang dams  in Mae Hong Son province, the Huay Khanaeng
and Mae Lamao dams in Tak province, and a scheme to
pump water from the Moei River in Tak's Mae Sot district
into a tunnel - have so far been studied by the Department of
Energy Development and Promotion (DEDP) in the Ministry
of Science, Technology and Environment.

Earlier, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand
(EGAT) had announced that the Mae Lama Luang scheme
was cancelled because its pre - feasibility study showed that
the benefits of the dam may not outweigh its impact on nature
and local communities.  But with a new government in place,
the project remains firmly on the agenda.

The dams and related projects would indeed have devastating

*  The reservoirs would flood intact forest reserves, wildlife
sanctuaries, villages and farmland on both sides of the border.

*  Decreased flow of the Salween River as a result of dam
construction would seriously affect the ecology and water
quality throughout its middle and lower reaches and thus
threaten agriculture and fisheries downstream in Burma.

* Dredging riverbeds, drilling tunnels through mountain sides,
and sending tonnes of water down previously isolated
streambeds to fill the Bhumibhol reservoir in northern
Thailand, will also radically change local ecosystems and
livelihoods.  In addition, more forests will be cleared for the
construction of access roads to the project sites.  In Burma,
this will also provide an opportunity for commercial logging
along the border already degraded by logging concessions
granted to Thai companies by the SLORC.

* Local people, mostly from ethnic communities, would be
relocated from proposed reservoir areas and project sites. 
However, the indigenous peoples of Thailand and Burma rely
on the land and forests not only for survival, but also for their
cultural identity.  Forest destruction and dam construction
will effectively undermine people's food security and lifestyles
as small-scale farmers and gatherers of forest products.

Many of the people along the Thai-Burmese border are
already refugees or have been displaced from their villages to
avoid persecution by the Burmese military which accuses
them of being part of or of cooperating with ethnic insurgency
groups.  On the Thai side, few ethnic people have Thai
citizenship papers or land title deeds, although they may have
lived here for a long time.  Therefore, it would be most
difficult for them to claim their rights and compensation for
relocation, loss of land and livelihood, and other damages
resulting from the development projects.

Yet, local communities do resist in several places.  Villagers
opposing the Upper Pai Dam in Mae Hong Son's Muang
Phaeng sub-district have set up signs along the road, warning:
"We of Muang Phaeng do not want you to build the dam.  We
want to protect our natural resources....  We will put our
hands together and fight until they stop the dam."

Parts of the local tourism industry have also expressed
concern about frenzied dam construction in the area.  Some
hoteliers are worried that the proposed Lower Pai Dam would
decrease the already low flow of the Pai River and, thus,
affect tourist boat trips to the so-called "Longneck" villages
of the Padaeng hill tribe, one of Mae Hong Son's most
popular tourist attractions.  Trekking guides fear that the
dams will affect wildlife and the eco-tourism trade.  The
fledgling businesses running rafting trips between Pai and
Mae Hong Son would be killed off, they say. 


WORLDWIDE, discussions on environmental, economic and
other social issues related to the booming golf business are
increasing.  Local people are being forced from their land to
make way for golf courses and tourist resorts, in addition to
displacement caused by deforestation, agro-industry, dam
construction and other large-scale projects.  Golf has also
come under attack for contributing to land deterioration,
deforestation, destruction of ecological life systems, water
shortage crises and contamination by golf course chemicals.

Thailand has been at the forefront of the Southeast Asian golf
boom and now boasts more than 200 golf courses, as
compared to only 42 courses in 1980.  Golf is being promoted
as a lucrative tourism business, but it is also the domain of the
domestic elite, bureaucrats and military officers.  Indochina
and Burma are rapidly becoming the new frontiers for golf
course investment, due to several factors - the growing
scarcity of appropriate sites, expensive land prices,
considerable public opposition in Thailand, as well as the
promotion of the Maekhong neighbouring countries as tourist

Vietnam has presently five golf courses in operation; three
additional projects have already received construction
licences, and several more are in the planning stage.  In Laos,
an Australian company initiated the Land Peace Lanxang
Project, including two 18-hole golf courses, 3000 hotel
rooms, an industrial estate and commercial town centre, near
the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge outside of Vientiane.  In
addition, a Thai developer plans to build a huge golf-plus-casino resort at Khon Phapheng in the southern province
Champasak.  The Malaysian company Ariston Bhd. signed a
contract with the Cambodian government beginning of this
year to establish a mega-tourism complex, including golf
courses and casinos, on an island off Sihanoukville, and
indicated it wants to invest in five more golf course projects
around Phnom Penh.  In Burma, the Rangoon golf courses
has been expanded, and golf-plus-casino resorts are under
construction such as the Golden Paradise Resort in the
Golden Triangle or the Andaman Club on Thahtay Kyun
island in the South (see following article). Yunnan in
southern China is trying to develop Kunming as a tourist
destination and has invited foreign investors to establish golf
courses, amusement parks, and other tourist facilities.

While the last few years have witnessed increased discussions
on sustainable development and so-called eco-tourism, golf
and resort developments have turned out as most
unsustainable and damaging activities to people and the
environment.  In order to protect natural resources and
people's livelihoods from the frenzied proliferation of golf-related developments, the countries of Indochina and Burma
would be well advised to draw on experiences in Thailand
and other parts of the world.  A number of local and national
governments have meanwhile acknowledged the
environmental impacts of golf and taken initiative to control
the business.  Major problems are, for example:

Unsustainable land use: Golf courses require large stretches
of land, replacing invaluable natural areas and fertile
agricultural lands for food production.  With the golf courses
usually come other developments - luxury hotels, residential
houses, shopping centres, amusement parks, power plants,
access roads and airports - all of which affect local
communities and cause serious havoc to rural environments.

Destruction of ecosystems: For golf course construction, the
land is usually flattened and recontoured from scratch, thus
wiping out plant and wildlife habitats and leaving large,
permanent scars on the landscape.  There are countless cases
where intact forests have been cleared, hilltops lopped off,
fragile coastal areas bulldozed, and wetlands drained, to
create courses with grass monocultures and artificial lakes. 
Golf resorts built on slopes carry especially high risks because
of the threat of soil erosion, landslides, downstream silting
and flooding.

High water consumption: Golf courses waste enormous
amounts of water.  According to research in Thailand, an 18-hole course uses up to 6,500 cubic meters of water per day to
maintain the turf and other landscaped areas.  The same
amount could meet the daily household needs of some 15,000
town residents or 60,000 villagers.  In 1994, people in
Thailand experienced one of the worst droughts for decades
while several golf courses were found illegally diverting
water from public reservoirs, and communities lacked
sufficient drinking and irrigation water.

Chemical pollution: The heavy use of chemicals, including
fertilizers, pesticides, soil-improving agents and artificial
dyes, to promote lush conditions in golf courses inevitably
contaminate the environment and threaten public health. 
Studies from Japan reveal that golf courses are sprayed with
about eight times more chemicals than neighbouring crop
fields.  These chemicals are often acutely and chronically
toxic.  Reports on water pollution, pesticide poisoning among
golf course workers, bird and fish killings in relation to the
application of toxic substances have resulted in calls for
stricter regulations in many countries.  Caddies and greens
keepers in Thailand's courses have suffered skin rashes,
dizziness, respiratory illnesses and kidney problems, most
likely because of the massive and regular exposure to golf
course chemicals.

Due to the many serious environmental and social concerns,
the Global Anti-Golf Movement (GAG'M) - an alliance of
environmentalists, nongovernmental organizations, and local
citizens groups, formed in Penang/Malaysia in April 1993 -
has launched an annual World No Golf Day on 29 April and
called for a moratorium on golf course construction and a ban
on golf being introduced as an Olympic sport.  It is highly
irresponsible that Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and
Malaysia, which have been victims of an uncontrolled golf
boom, are now in turn aggressively promoting destructive
golf course projects and golf tourism to Indochina, Burma
and China where land and natural resources are easily
available and golf resorts provide a new lure to draw easy
money from wealthy tourists, expatriates and the local
nouveaux riches. 


A group of Thai investors, Ves Group, announced that the
tourist resort on the Burmese island of Thaytay Kyun in the 
Andaman Sea is ready for opening in October this year, The
resort is close to Thai territory, about half an hour away by
boat from the Ranong coast.

The US$24 - million Andaman Club project on land leased
from Burma about two years ago will have a six-storey hotel
with 205 rooms, a duty-free shop, games rooms, a zoo and an
18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus.

Patchanee Phutmee, marketing director of the Andaman Club,
said the soft opening is scheduled for October, but the golf
course will not be complete until the middle of next year. 
"We have designed this project as a private retreat." she said,
denying allegations that casino gambling will be the key
selling point.

Ves Group is also constructing the Ranong Highland Hotel
with 300 rooms in Ranong province of southern Thailand
where visitors to the Andaman Club can stay before travelling
on to Thahtay Kyun Island.

In addition, two Thai cruisers, Sea Trans and Andaman
Princess, are planning to expand their route into Burmese
territorial waters to attract more tourists into this region. 
Pornrat Tanpaiboon, Sea Trans Travel managing director,
said her company will launch the new service at Ranong
coastal area and target mainly high - class tourists.

After a series of border conflicts, however, Thai Burmese
relationship has reached one of its lowest points.  Burma
closed the Ranong-Victoria Point (Kawthaung) border
crossing on 10 August following allegations that Burmese
fishermen were killed on a Thai trawler off the Ranong coast. 
Initially, the Thai official and business community were
hopeful that the tough measures by the Burmese government
were restricted only to the northern region.  While a travel ban
has been in effect between Mae Sai in Chiang Rai Province
and Tachilek, and between Tak's Mae Sod and Myawaddy
for several months already, it seemed to be business as usual
at the last remaining crossing between Ranong and
Kawthaung, which serves the multi - million-dollar fishing
and tourism industries and bilateral trade.  But now, the
indefinite closure of the three official checkpoints virtually
seal off the 2,300 km Thai - Burmese frontier, and business
and trade face an uncertain future.


Edited from an article by Steve Ross 
(The Nation 13/08/95)

A big real estate boom is about to hit Ranong.  Some of the
land plots we looked at had gone up in value between 300
and 1,000 per cent over the past two years.  The reason for
this rampant inflation is a casino currently being built by a
Thai company on a small island off Victoria Point (the
Andaman Club), though anyone connected with the project, if
you can get them to talk at all, will say that's not a casino; just
a typical 200-room resort, with a pool, massage parlour,
karaoke lounge, duty-free shop and games room.  The room
will have 200 slot machines, 50 blackjack tables, 30 baccarat
tables, 20 roulette wheels and high-resolution video cameras
mounted behind one-way glass panels in the ceiling - but that
doesn't necessarily make the place a casino.

         I don't know why they're being so secretive about it.  Thai law
prohibits gambling, sure, but the casino is being built on
Burmese soil so the law is moot.  And anyway, that law is to
keep the day labourers from blowing their babies' milk money
on games of Black Frog/ Red Frog; it was never meant to
stifle the natural gaming instincts of the power elite.

But the optimism that is fueling the land boom in Ranong is, I
think, misplaced.  The punters will arrive at the new Ranong
Airport and be whisked via the casino's own vans directly to
the casinos own pier, where the casino's own boats will take
them to the casino's island.  The high rollers will come direct
from Phuket by helicopter to the roof of the casino and not
even pass over Ranong long enough to spit on it.

All unskilled labour: gardeners, porters, security, etc.... will
be Burmese, since they will work twice as hard for one third
the money of a Thai.  The semiskilled labourers; waiters, bell-hops, room maids, etc. ... will be recruited directly from the
hotels on Phuket.  The managers will be farang (Westerners)
or Bangkok Sino/Thai.  The dealers and croupiers will all be

I once spent 13 weeks shooting a movie in and around casinos
of Atlantic City, New Jersey (USA).  Inside the casinos and
along The Broadway it was a handsome town, all chrome and
glass and misty Atlantic surf.  But behind Casino Row, to
keep the punters at the tables, the Mafia had bought out or
burned out every other business in the city.

I don't think that it will ever go that far in Ranong.  There will
probably be about a 100 or so happy workers employed
driving the airport vans or the ferry boats to take the gambling
tourists to their


[Voice of the Peacock  2/3, 1995; TI: 3/20, 1995)
FOR decades, the Burmese military dictatorship has been
waging a war against the many ethnic peoples in the country. 
But last May Lt-Gen Maung Thint, the Minister of Ethnic
Affairs and Border Area Programme, proposed at a SLORC
meeting to construct ethnic villages near Syriam Bridge
(Than Hlyin) as a tourist attraction for "Visit Myanmar
Year".  He indicated the villages would be decorated
according to the habit and culture of the ethnic groups, and
some ethnic people would be forced to live there like in a
"human zoo."