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Lao official, developer differ over dam’s status

Lao official, developer differ over dam’s status

The Lao government and the builders of its Don Sahong dam can’t seem to get their story straight, according to conflicting accounts offered by the two parties yesterday.

Newly appointed Laotian Ambassador Prasith Sayasith told Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong in a meeting that Laos had suspended construction of the controversial hydropower dam.

“Laos is taking efforts to avoid any negative environmental impact on the Mekong River,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.

Contrary to the claim, however, Malaysian dam developers Mega First Corporation Berhad said construction was going ahead as planned.

“I am at the project site and I can advise you that construction has not been suspended” except for a “temporary” halt due to flooding, said Don Sahong environmental manager Peter Hawkins.

Preparatory work began on the 260-megawatt Don Sahong over a year ago, with full-scale construction slated to begin in December, according to announcements from Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines.

But conservationists maintain that the dam should have already ceased construction work after Laos agreed in June to submit the dam to prior consultation among the Mekong Basin governments

“The prior consultation process, from our point of view, must be carried out before [any] decision to proceed with a dam,” said Pianporn Deetes, a coordinator with International Rivers.

Critics have long held that the proposed dam would pitch the region into further food insecurity by blocking the only channel available for dry season fish migration, as well as potentially decimate the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.

According to communications adviser for the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission Surasak Galahan, after agreeing to the prior consultation process, “as a courtesy, Lao PDR [said it] would not carry out construction during the prior consultation process”.

When that consultative period begins and construction stops is a matter of debate.

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