Myanmar has decided to go ahead with construction of a major dam along its main river despite opposition from ethnic minorities and environmentalists, reports said Monday.
Ethnic Kachin people and environmental groups say the Myanmar-China Myitsone Hydroelectric Project in Kachin state will damage the Irrawaddy River and submerge a culturally important site where the Malikha and Maykha rivers meet and form it.
The weekly Eleven journal and other media reported that Electric Power Minister Zaw Min said construction of the dam, to be built by China, would proceed despite the objections.
They quoted Zaw Min as saying the dam will take eight years to construct and Myanmar will receive 10 percent of the electricity it generates.
The $3.6 billion dam would flood an area the size of Singapore.
Kachin and environmental groups have formed a "Save the Irrawaddy" movement to stop the dam.
Zaw Min, however, said the government "will not back down," Eleven journal reported.
In response to the minister's remarks, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday reiterated her appeal to Myanmar and China to re-evaluate the project, calling the Irrawaddy "the most significant geographical feature of our country."
Suu Kyi said in August that about 12,000 people from 63 villages had already been relocated because of the dam. The government, however, said only 2,146 people from five villages had been relocated.
For decades, several ethnic groups have waged guerrilla wars for greater autonomy, including more control over resources in their regions. In March, fighting broke out between the 8,000-strong Kachin militia and the government.
That fighting was related to dams and other large projects being built by China, the Environmental Working Group, a coalition of 10 exile groups, said in a report in July.
Two months before the fighting erupted, the Kachin Independence Organization issued a strong protest against the Myitsone dam.