Thai workers evacuate from Myanmar dam after killed one

An artillery attack on a controversial hydroelectric project in Myanmar killed one Thai national and prompted the evacuation of dozens of remaining Thais working at the site, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

The Thai workers were surveying the site in eastern Karen state as part of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand's agreement with the Myanmar government to build a US$1 billion (EUR 825 million) dam project on the Salween River.

Saman Kantameun, 53, was killed Sunday when "a group of rebels" shelled their camp, said EGAT spokesman Apichart Dilogsopon.

The company evacuated the remaining 42 workers - including engineers and geologists - to Thailand on Monday following the incident, Apichart said. "All 42 of them have been safely evacuated," he said.

The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper, blamed the attack on the Karen National Union, which has been fighting for half a century for greater autonomy from Myanmar's military government.

The paper reported the KNU fired heavy weapons into the camp near Hlaingbwe township, located about 180 kilometers (110 miles) east of Yangon.

Apichart said he didn't know whether the rebels were from the KNU, or if EGAT officials were the intended target.

A spokesman for the KNU could not be immediately reached for comment.

"We will have to increase security for our workers and we will work with security officials in both countries to see how we could step up the measures," Apichart said.

EGAT's project has drawn the ire of environmentalists, since the Salween runs through a stunningly beautiful, remote and ecologically rich region inhabited mostly by ethnic minority groups. Plans have been drawn up for as many as 18 dams and diversions - 13 in China and five where the river runs inside Myanmar or forms its frontier with Thailand.

"It is a huge investment and unlikely that the incident would change the plan entirely," said Pornpimon Trichot at Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies.

Pornpimon suggested the shelling may have been linked to fighting between government and rebel forces and not directed at the dam project workers.

Last May an EGAT geologist was killed by a land mine near the project site.

The KNU is the only major ethnic rebel group not to have concluded a cease-fire with Myanmar's junta. Its separatist struggle in Karen state is one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

The Salween River is considered the only free-flowing river linking the Himalayan glaciers to the coastline of the Andaman Sea.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova