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Laos takes heat for dam work

Laos takes heat for dam work

Activists blasted the Lao government yesterday following a report that infrastructure construction is underway at the controversial Xayaburi dam, despite the government’s stated support for a regional decision-making process for major projects affecting the Mekong.

Representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are set to meet in Vientiane today to decide whether to endorse the proposed US$3.8 billion dam, backed by Thai company CH Karnchang and the first of 11 proposed for the lower Mekong.

Following an on-site investigation, the Bangkok Post reported Sunday that major road construction was taking place near the proposed dam, which many fear will result in permanent damage to the region’s environment and the millions who depend on the river.

Yesterday, activists said the reported construction proved that the regional consultation process was a sham.

“That project preparations have already commenced on the Xayaburi dam demonstrates the company’s and the Lao government’s complete disregard for the findings of the MRC-commissioned Strategic Environmental Assessment report, the regional government decision-making process, which is not yet even complete, and the widespread public opposition to the dam,” Ame Trandem, Mekong campaigner for the conservation group International Rivers, said in a statement yesterday.

In October, a Mekong River Commission report recommended a 10-year delay for decisions about damming the lower Mekong.

International Rivers said up to 10,000 Thai villagers had signed a petition, set to be presented to the Lao embassy and the Thai government yesterday, demanding that the dam be cancelled. The effort follows a letter signed by 263 NGOs opposing the project which was sent to the premiers of Laos and Thailand last month.

Thailand is expected to purchase 95 percent of the energy from the 1,260 megawatt dam.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said Thailand did not have a position yet on the dam.

“We will consult with the other members – Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – before we make a decision,” he said yesterday. “It could be possible that we will look into the requests of the more information needed for the environmental impact assessment.” The assessment has been roundly criticised as inadequate and lacking essential information.

Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He said on Sunday that Cambodia would ask Laos to delay the project, citing design flaws that would prevent fish migration and a lack of information about the impact on the Kingdom.

Surasak Glahan, communications officer for the MRC, said yesterday that the group had not been aware of the road construction near the proposed dam site, adding that no such work was visible during a site visit at the end of November.

Surasak said the 1995 Mekong Agreement contains “no provisions on violations” and that the regional consultation process “is not legally binding”.

“The Lao government can make the decision later on… so it’s more of a protocol for them to come together and discuss and try to find a way forward,” he said, adding that countries affected by infrastructure projects on the river can petition governments for compensation or seek international arbitration.  The Lao Embassy in Cambodia was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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