Damning revelations

Phnom Penh Post 5 August 2011

By Mary Kozlovski

An environmental group has accused the Lao government of “unilaterally” pushing forward with construction on the controversial US$3.8 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River, despite serious concerns about the project and an incomplete regional decision-making process.

In a statement released yesterday,  conservation group International Rivers said that a field visit to the proposed dam site late last month revealed that construction on an access road and work-camp was proceeding in spite of commitments from Laos to temporarily suspend the project.

“By building this dam, Laos is disregarding its regional commitments and robbing the future of millions of people in the region who rely upon the river for their livelihood and food security,” Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, said.

The release also stated that a meeting of the four lower Mekong countries – Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – in Phnom Penh today to discuss further steps in the Mekong River Commission’s consultation process had been postponed “without explanation”. 

Following a special meeting in April of the MRC – a regional body established under a 1995 agreement to manage the Mekong River – the four countries said they would delay a decision on whether to conclude discussion on the project until a ministerial meeting later this year.

MRC communications officer Surasak Glahan said yesterday that the Lao National Mekong Committee had not responded to a letter sent by the MRC requesting clarification on media reports about construction at the proposed dam site.

“At present Laos PDR is still committed to the formal [MRC] consultative process,” he said, adding that today’s meeting had been postponed to accommodate the new head of the Lao NMC.Te Navuth, secretary general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee, could not be reached.

In June, International Rivers accused the Lao government of going “rogue” after documents obtained by The Post revealed that the director general of the department of energy promotion and development at the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines claimed that Vientiane had already met its obligations under the MRC consultation process.

At an informal donor meeting later that month, development partners requested that the Lao government clarify reports that its Ministry of Energy and Mines considered the decision-making process “already complete”.

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have expressed concerns about the impact of the proposed dam. International Rivers believes that the project would forcibly resettle more than 2,000 people and could impact the livelihoods of millions of people in the region.

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