MUMBAI, India – Myanmar’s top prelate has warned that “environmental and economic catastrophes” are a possibility if a controversial dam project supported by neighboring China is restarted.

A Chinese-owned power company signed an agreement to build the Myitsone dam over the Irrawaddy River in 2006, and work began three years later.

The project was one of the largest in the region, but was strongly opposed by the local population, since it would flood a large area, displacing thousands of people, with most of the benefit of the dam going to China.

In September 2011, Myanmar’s government announced the suspension of the project, but it hasn’t officially been cancelled. Myanmar’s “State Counselor” and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit Beijing later this month for the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, and there are fears China will pressure her to restart work on the dam.

On April 1, about 200 activists in Yangon formed the Committee to Terminate the Myitsone Project and urged the government to officially cancel the dam.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon supported the movement, and on April 15 issued a letter reiterating the appeal, stating the Myitsone dam does not benefit the people of Myanmar.

“A few weeks ago, we made a passionate plea to all the stakeholders to stop any effort to dam our Mother River Irrawaddy. We are heartened by the response of the army which has assured that the feelings of the people of Myanmar will be taken into consideration in the dam issue,” the cardinal wrote.

“Yet we are deeply concerned and worried. There are signs that extreme pressure is brought on our leaders to restart the Myitsone dam. Millions stand to lose their livelihood.  Environmental and economic catastrophes are already predicted by the scientific community,” he said.

Calling China a superpower that has been “an all-weather friend to Myanmar,” Bo said the Asian giant “can contribute to the welfare of the millions by stopping this dam initiative once and for all” and “really help our poor in many other ways.”

“Once again, with tears in our eyes, our hearts burdened with the impending risks to millions, we plead with all stakeholders to stop the dam once and for all. Irrawaddy is a sacred mother to all of us. Kindly annul the agreement once and for all,” the cardinal urged.

“Our military and civilian leadership, we strongly believe, always keep the welfare of the poor people of Myanmar in their plans. The resources of Myanmar belong to the people of Myanmar,” he said.