The Nation 6 April 2011
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Some 400 people from provinces along the Mekong River in the North and Northeast gathered yesterday in Nong Khai's Si Chiang Mai district to voice their opposition against Laos' proposed Xayaburi hydropower project, which they believe will have a negative impact on their lives.
The protesters also signed a letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, asking him to block the government's plan to purchase electricity from the project.
The Laotian authorities have granted a concession to Thailand's construction firm Ch Karnchang to build a massive 1,260 MW dam on the Mekong River's mainstream at the Kaeng Luang rapids, 30 kilometres from Xayaburi town. Some 95 per cent of the electricity would be sold to Thailand.
However, the protesters said this dam would affect thousands of local people directly, and millions more indirectly due to its impact on the Mekong and its interconnected eco-systems.
"We will get more than 20,000 signatures from people in the North and Northeast who will be affected by the dam and submit it to the PM later this month asking him to stop plans to purchase electricity," Niwat Roikaew, a member of Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong Conservationist Network, said.
Manas Pankhao from Nong Khai's Tha Bo district urged all Thai banks to stop supporting this project, because it will cause more damage to the country instead of benefiting it.
Conservationist Hannarong Yaowalers said the government should also listen to other countries downstream of the Mekong, notably Cambodia and Vietnam, which are against the project.
"Thai people are also in disagreement to this project and want the government to look at the great damage caused by existing Chinese dams in the Mekong mainstream," he said. He added that it was unnecessary for Thailand to purchase electricity from the Xayaburi project because it had already agreed to buy power from many projects in Laos.
Hannarong also urged the authorities and developers to disclose the study of environment impact assessment to public.
The 29-year power-purchase agreement between Laos and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand is expected to be signed this month or next, with four large banks in Thailand providing a credit facility worth Bt80 billion, said Prasert Marittanaporn, Ch Karnchang's director and executive vice president for accounting and finance.