Plan to clear Mekong rapids set to resume in spite of protest

Bangkok Post 8 June 2004

The removal of rapids on a stretch of the Mekong River along the Thailand and Laos border will resume after the two countries settle their boundary and a new study on environmental impacts is completed, Director-General of the Marine Department Wanchai Sarnthoontat said yesterday.

The recent withdrawal of officials from the river had raised hopes among environmentalists and opponents of the project that the scheme would be scrapped.

But Mr Wanchai said the plan, which is part of the four-nation commercial navigation agreement committed by Burma, China, Laos and Thailand, remained unchanged.

Mr Wanchai noted that the rapids slated for clearance via blasting were on the Lao side and that they will only be partially removed to allow large ships to navigate the river.

The Khon Pi Luang rapids on the Thai-Lao border in Chiang Rai are being cleared to aid commercial navigation.The blasting scheme is the brainchild of China which aims to open passage for cargo ships up to 100 tonnes along the 331-km stretch of the Mekong river from China's Yunnan province to Luang Prabang in Laos.

The scheme, entirely funded by Beijing, has raised not only local but also global concerns about the environmental impact, especially downstream from the projects.

This year the lower part of the Mekong dried up earlier than expected and fishermen along the river complained about depleting fish stocks.