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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Laos defends road to dam

Laos defends road to dam

Laos defends road to dam

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A fisherman in Kandal province pulls in his net on the Mekong River last month. Laos is at odds with Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam over the future of a proposed dam in Xayaburi province.

This is fairly common practice for developments

The Laos government has defended the construction of roads near the site of a proposed US$3.8 billion hydropower dam on the lower Mekong, despite a delay in the regional decision-making process regarding the controversial project.

Viraphonh Viravong, director general of the department of electricity at Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines, told the Bangkok Post yesterday that road construction around the proposed 1,260MW Xayaburi dam site in northern Laos had been requested by Xayaburi and Luang Prabang provincial authorities.

The newspaper reported last month that infrastructure work had begun, publishing photographs of trucks and diggers with the logo of CH Karnchang Public Company Limited, the Thai company heading the project.

‘’This is a fairly common practice for developments in Laos since the early completion of access roads helps to reduce the mobilisation time and reduce the overall construction [time] of the project,’’ Viraphonh Viravong told the newspaper via email, adding that there was a risk the project would not proceed.

Viraphonh Viravong is head of the Laos delegation to the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body created to manage the Mekong River.

At a special Joint Committee Meeting of the MRC on April 19, government representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam deferred a decision on whether consultation on the proposed dam should end to ministerial level because “they could not come to a common conclusion on how to proceed with the project”, according to an MRC statement.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said yesterday that Laos should respect the MRC agreement.

“Lao PDR should not go ahead with construction [of the dam] because the issue is still under discussion,” he said.

He added that the MRC Secretariat had sent a letter to the Laos National Mekong Committee on April 29 seeking clarification about the reported construction, but had not yet received a response.

Environmental groups and NGOs have criticised the project, arguing that the dam would have a devastating impact on the environment and the livelihood of communities in the Lower Mekong.

Pianporn Deetes, Mekong campaigner for conservation organisation International Rivers, said yesterday that the MRC had been undermined by the construction.

“This project is on a trans-boundary river that is shared by many other countries so any construction work involving the dam would already mean that Laos ignores the issues raised by their neighbours,” she said. “There are many other ways available to produce electricity for Laos … without destroying the Mekong River.”

A statement issued on Friday by Save the Mekong coalition called on ASEAN leaders to investigate the Xayaburi dam, also requesting that the Laos government halt construction at the proposed site and the Thai government abandon plans to purchase the dam’s electricity.

Ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to determine whether to end discussion on the proposed dam through the MRC later this year.

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