* Says western campaigners only focus on Africa
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA, March 31 (Reuters) - Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi denounced Westerners on Thursday campaigning against hydropower dam projects in Africa as "borderline criminal" and said they were helping to keep Africans poor.
Ethiopia is building five hydropower dams -- some funded by the World Bank -- and announced on Wednesday that it would shortly start building a huge 5,250 megawatt (MW) dam on the Nile, despite an escalating row with Egypt over the river's use.
Western NGOs have been campaigning against some of the dams on environmental or human rights grounds.
"These people will not allow the disturbance of butterflies even if this means millions of people have to be subjected to the deadliest killer disease of all -- poverty," Meles told a conference on hydropower in Africa in Addis Ababa.
"I am not a believer in conspiracy theories but, if I were, I would conclude that these people want Africa to remain as it is with all its misery and poverty so they can come and visit nature in its pristine state in winter every so often."
Meles said the groups were from Europe and the U.S.
Power shortages are common in Africa and have hindered investment, even though the continent has abundant potential resources of solar, hydro, oil, gas, coal and geothermal power.
Ethiopia aims to produce 15,000MW of power within 10 years as part of a plan to spend $12 billion over 25 years to overcome chronic power shortages and export to other African countries.
One of the Ethiopian dams, the 1.4 billion euro Gibe III that is expected to generate 1,800MW, has been the subject of a major international campaign over the rights of tribal people.
Over 400 NGOs led by Survival International this month signed a petition against Gibe III. They say that 200,000 Ethiopians who rely on fishing and farming may become dependent on aid to survive if the dam goes ahead.
Meles said the impact of the dam projects would be "negligible" and those affected would be compensated.
"These groups have done virtually nothing to stop their countries from building all the dams they can while at the same time single-handedly subjecting our planet to the threat of catastrophe because of global warming," Meles said.
"(Yet) they are trying to stop projects in poor countries like Ethiopia that are infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible."
Meles is Africa's usual lead negotiator at climate change talks and has in the past suggested European carbon emissions caused his country's 1984/85 famine.
(Editing by Richard Lough and Elizabeth Fullerton)