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Villagers plead for dam halt

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Eik Shivon (right) raises concerns about a proposed dam in Laos yesterday in Phnom Penh.

As a regional decision on Laos’ controversial US$3.8 billion Xayaburi hydropower dam approaches, Cambodian villagers who say their livelihoods are under threat have called for the project to be stopped.

Fouy Shouk travelled from Ratanakkiri’s Feung village, in Veun Sai district’s Pong commune, to make her concerns about the dam known at a press conference held yesterday in Phnom Penh.

“We note that our government tries hard to develop our country,” she said, listing new schools and roads as significant achievements.  “But we also see that some plans for development are not so good, like the dams proposed, especially in Xayaburi in Laos.”

She said the dam would affect the quality of the river’s water, prevent fish from migrating and cause severe draughts. This would diminish fish populations, agricultural productivity and local incomes.

“We ask all, the King and other people, if they hear our voices, please stop [the construction of] the dam,” Fouy Shouk said.  “The river is our life.”

Eik Shivon, also made the trip to the capital from Sma village, located in Siem Bouk district’s Koh Sralay commune in Stung Treng province, to say that he and others from his community oppose the dam.

“There will be an impact on the fish migration. Fish will decline, and the water fluctuation will change,” he said.

Meach Mean, coordinator for the 3S Rivers Protection Network, said that the group estimates around six million Cambodians will be affected by the dam.

The Mekong River Commission, a regional body created to facilitate joint management and development of shared water resources among Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, will convene a special meeting on the project on April 19.  A decision on whether it will endorse the dam is expected by April 22.

A review by the MRC of documents related to the project released last month estimated that a full 2.5 million tonnes per year, or six percent of fishery yields, would be lost if the dam is built.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said yesterday the government has not yet come to a position on whether it will support the building of the dam, adding that officials have raised concerns about the dam with Laos.

Chith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, appealed to the company building the dam and the Laos government to conduct a clear study about how the project would affect people living downstream.

Thailand is expected to purchase 95 percent of the electricity from the dam, which would be built by a Thai company CH Karnchang Public Company Limited.

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