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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dam promises are ‘a facade’

Activists hold placards and banners on a boat in Phnom Penh
Activists hold placards and banners on a boat in Phnom Penh last month during the handover of a petition against the Don Sahong dam project. Heng Chivoan

Dam promises are ‘a facade’

With regional consultations on Laos’s Don Sahong dam expected to commence soon, the developers are violating pledges to postpone construction, which is being undertaken by a Chinese company associated with several controversial hydropower projects, the Post has learned.

In June, the Lao government agreed not to begin construction on the dam, which lies less than 2 kilometres north of Cambodia, until after the six-month prior consultation period. In August, the newly appointed Laotian ambassador to Cambodia corroborated the claims, telling Cambodian officials that the dam had been “suspended” pending dialogues.

But yesterday, watchdog NGO International Rivers said construction was still under way.

“As construction and negotiations continue, it’s clear that the prior consultation process is a facade and will have no influence over whether or not the project should proceed. Given the serious impacts this dam is expected to have on Cambodia and other Mekong countries’ fisheries and food security, it’s unacceptable that Laos continues to set all the rules of engagement,” International Rivers Southeast Asia director Ame Trandem said.

Articles posted to the website of Chinese state-owned engineering firm Powerchina reveal that the firm’s subsidiary, Sinohydro International, has been subcontracted for much of the Don Sahong’s preparatory work.

Known as the largest hydropower construction company, Sinohydro Group is involved in at least five of Cambodia’s dams, including the heavily contested and potentially postponed Stung Cheay Areng dam.

“Sinohydro International is likely to be involved as the main construction contractor of Don Sahong; it already has some preliminary work contracts for the bridge and roads,” said Grace Mang, China program director for International Rivers.

“The large majority of [the] funding [used by the company] comes from loans from Chinese banks to the host country governments.”

According to several posts on Powerchina’s website, Sinohydro’s involvement in the Don Sahong project began in November 2013, when Sinohydro allocated at least one staff member to the Don Sahong.

Another post confirms that the company has been in negotiations for further work on the project, including designing elements of the dam, installing equipment and drilling.

Sinohydro International and Powerchina did not return request for comment.

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