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A controversial dam project is playing a peculiar role in Sri Lankan politics

By Feizal Samath
Published: Sunday 15 August 2004

Sri Lanka's ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is interested in going ahead with a hydroelectric power project, which has been opposed in the past on environmental grounds. The proposed Upper Kotmale project will be sited near a row of waterfalls. Apart from destroying these, the project could affect other natural resources and uproot many people.

The US $0.91 million project was initiated in mid-1990s but has been persistently opposed by environmentalists and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), a powerful plantation union. But Sri Lanka's power and energy minister, Susil Premjayanth, recently said the government would soon invite tenders for it. Sri Lanka is acutely power-starved and has relied on costly thermal power in recent years.

Political analysts believe this is UPFA's ploy to win the support of CWC, an ally of the main opposition United National Party with five seats in parliament. The ruling alliance is short of a majority in parliament. "The government could drop the project to get CWC's support," an analyst said. The government was to announce a decision on the matter on July 15. It didn't.

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