THE Laos government has temporarily suspended work on a proposed US$3.8 billion hydropower dam on the lower Mekong, Vietnamese state media reported yesterday.
According to Vietnam News Agency, Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong informed Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung that Laos would halt work on the 1,260MW Xayaburi dam project, during a meeting on Saturday on the side of the 18th ASEAN summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Bangkok Post published pictures last month that showed infrastructure work was being carried out by the Thai company backing the dam, CH Karnchang Public Company Limited.
On Sunday, it reported that Viraphonh Viravong, director general of the department of electricity at Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines, defended the construction, saying that it was “fairly common practise”.
Surasak Glahan, communications officer at the Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body created to manage the Mekong River, said yesterday that Vietnamese authorities had confirmed the new report.
“But there has not been confirmation from the Laos authorities,” he added.
MRC has also not received clarification from Laos over reports of construction near the dam site.
Pianporn Deetes, Mekong campaigner for conservation organisation International Rivers, yesterday welcomed the news but said that confirmation was needed from Laos and Thai authorities.
“It is also very important that [Laos] removes equipment from the site to confirm that there is no construction going on,” she said.
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 to end consultation on the Xayaburi dam project to ministerial level.
Ministers from the four countries are expected to determine whether to end discussion on the dam project, which has raised concerns among environmental groups and NGOs about its potential impact on communities in the lower Mekong.
Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Officials from the Laos embassy in Phnom Penh declined to comment.