Work on Lao dam across Mekong forges ahead despite concerns

Cambodia Herald 19 July 2012

PHNOM PENH – Work on a controversial dam across the Mekong River in northern Laos is still proceeding despite last week's claims that the project had been postponed, a source said Thursday.

The source was speaking after returning from a visit to the Xayaburi dam site organized by the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines on Monday and Tuesday.

About 70 people took part in the visit including the US, German, French and Cambodian ambassadors in Vientiane as well as Vietnamese and Australian diplomats, the source said.

"Earthworks along the river were ongoing on the day of the official visit," the source said.

A presentation by Finnish engineering company Poyry indicated that the proposed dam would not have adverse impacts on Cambodia and Vietnam.

NO 'UNACCEPTABlE NEGATIVE AFFECTS' ON DOWNSTREAM COUNTRIES

"The project will not have unacceptable negative effects and restrictions on the population living downstream of the project, and therefore also not in the neighboring countries further south," the company presentation said.

France's Compagnie Nationale du Rhone said in a separate presentation that the Xayaburi project "could be considered as transparent" regarding hydrological issues.

Unlike large storage dams on the Mekong upstream in China, the Xayaburi project would have "negligible effects," the company said.

During the tour of the site, Poyry and Lao Vice Minister for Energy and Mines Viraphon Viravong were "clear that the construction would go ahead," the source said.

Since the dam is considered by its promoters as a "transparent" project, neither a cumulative impact assessment nor a transboundary impact assessment are being considered, the source added.

FINNISH COMPANY BLACKLISTED BY WORLD BANK

The visit to the Xayaburi site this week came only days after the Helsinki Times reported that the World Bank had blacklisted Poyry for bribery in an unidentified East Asian country. The report noted that the company's chief executive "unexpectedly resigned" a week before it was blacklisted.

During last week's ASEAN meetings in Phnom Penh, Lao Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith was quoted as telling reporters that "the Lao government decided to postpone" the Xayaburi project. "We have to do further studies," he reportedly said.

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