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Questions over Laos dam

120723_03
A boat passes near a large gravel-based dyke which is being built across a section of the Mekong River in Xayaburi province, Laos. Photograph: Bangkok Post

A decision on whether to build the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in northern Laos is a life and death one that will affect Cambodians downstream, according to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Namhong said the controversial 1,260-megawatt hydropower dam has the potential to threaten fish numbers in the Mekong, a problem that would affect Cambodian communities who rely on the river for their livelihood.

The dam could also limit the number of fish that make it to the Tonle Sap river, he said.

“As you know, when there are floods, fish flow from the Mekong to the Tonle Sap river,” said Namhong. “Fish on the Tonle Sap [are] very important for the Cambodian people, so Cambodia has paid much attention to the construction of [Xayaburi]."

“We have already informed the government of Laos about the consequences,” he added.

The comments came amid conflicting reports about how much construction is going on at the Xayaburi site in Laos’ north.

The Laos government claims that only preparatory work has been carried out, but journalists who visited Xayaburi recently reported seeing a one-metre high gravel dyke that has been constructed more than halfway across most of the river.

“A small longtail boat cannot pass as the current around the channel is strong,” a boatman in the area told them.

Surasak Glahan, communications officer with the Mekong River Commission secretariat in Laos, told the Post last week that no structure had been built on the river itself. But he added later that it was “too premature to give [an] immediate in-depth reflection of what we observed”.

Laos’ deputy minister of Energy and Mines, Viraphonh Viravong, denied yesterday that he had lied about the status.

“There have been media reports that we have halted the project,” he said. “That’s the biggest misunderstanding. We have not carried out the work and then halted, as we never started any construction. And we have never given a permit for such construction.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Cheang Sokha at sokha.cheang@phnompenhpost.com
Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phonmpenhpost.com
With assistance from Bangkok Post

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