The Salween River dam hydroelectric project in Burma should continue because it is important for energy stability in Thailand, according to a high-level Energy Ministry official.

Meanwhile, the Thailand Human Rights Organization has agreed to ask the government to cancel the project, according to an environmental activist.

Pornchai Rujiprapha, the secretary-general of the Energy Ministry who is also the chairman of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, told a press conference on Tuesday that the electricity generating project is essential to stability because Thailand now mainly uses natural gas to produce electricity.

“Natural gas supply in the country is decreasing and the cost is increasing…so other sources and kinds of energy are needed from both Laos and Burma,” he said, according to a report in the Thai News Agency on Wednesday.

He said Egat has designated 120 million baht (US $3.6 million) to assist in public health, education and employment for local villagers in the Salween dam area. The project was temporarily suspended following the death of an Egat employee at a construction site and the recent pro-democracy uprising in Burma.

Meanwhile, the Thailand Human Rights Commission organized a public forum on Hat Gyi Dam that included people from the effected area.

Pianporn Deetes, a staff member of the Southeast Asian Rivers Network, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the commissioners have agreed to ask the government to stop the project because of its negative impact on villagers and the environment in both Thailand and Burma.

Thaweewong Sriburi of the Environmental Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok told the forum that a survey of the construction sites in Karen State, Burma, found it is a conflict zone between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Karen National Union.

“The leaders of these groups support the construction, but they urge assistance for quality of life developments for the villagers,” he said. An impact survey on the Thai side of the border has not been completed, he said, according to the report in Thai News Agency.

Two Egat staffers were killed by an unidentified group while working on construction sites in the dam area. In the most recent incident, an employee died when a mortal shell fell on a construction site.

The dam project has drawn strong protests from environmentalists and ethnic groups, who say that three proposed dams in the area would dislocate villagers and lead to human rights abuses by Burmese soldiers. Some observers say the dams would affect the livelihood of more than 10 million people from 13 ethnic groups in Burma.

The dam project is a joint undertaking of the Burmese, Thai and Chinese governments.