Laos has suspended
construction on the controversial Xayaburi dam on
the Mekong River following an uproar from
neighboring Cambodia and environmental groups, a
senior Lao government official said on Wednesday.
An agreement was signed between companies
for construction of the dam project from March
this year even though a four-nation commission
that manages development along Southeast Asia's
key river has not given the go-ahead for the
"No construction is going on;
it's discontinued, postponed," Sithong
Chitgnothin, director of the Lao Ministry of
Foreign Affairs' press department, told RFA's Lao
service on Wednesday in what is believed to be the
first government statement that construction will
He said that Laos would stand
by agreements of the Mekong
River Commission (MRC),
an inter-governmental body including Cambodia,
Laos, Thailand and Vietnam that manages
development along Southeast Asia's main waterway.
"The agreement of the four MRC members
still stands, and the Lao government will always
abide by it," Chitgnothin said.
landmark ruling in December, MRC member countries
agreed that the dam project should not proceed
until further assessment was conducted.
The decision followed an earlier
recommendation by an expert study group for a
10-year moratorium on all mainstream Mekong dams -
of which Xayaburi would be the first on the lower
part of the river - due to a need for further
research on their potentially catastrophic
environmental and socio-economic impact.
But in April, Thai company Ch Karnchang
announced it had signed a US$1.7 billion contract
with Xayaburi Power Co for construction of the
1,290-megawatt dam, prompting protests from green
groups in Thailand, where most of the dam's
electricity would be sent.
contract, the company set a start date for the
construction on the dam in March 2012, in spite of
the December MRC agreement that the dam should
wait for further study.
groups monitoring the dam have said that
preliminary construction around the dam site,
including roads and support facilities, has begun,
but officials say work on the dam itself had not
Cambodia lodged its complaint
in a letter to Lao MRC representatives last week,
opposing the preliminary construction and warning
Laos not to allow the dam to move ahead.
The letter followed earlier threats from
Cambodia to take Laos to international court over
Through the MRC, established in
1995, member countries have agreed to a protocol
for consulting with and notifying each other about
use of the river's resources, but the organization
has no binding jurisdiction on what Laos does
about the dam.
Tuesday, an MRC spokesman reiterated that its
members were in agreement that the project should
be halted pending further study.
Lower Mekong countries are still on the same page;
that is, that the project needs more study on its
impact, [as do] all projects on Mekong River,"
Surasack Glahan, a communications officer at the
MRC secretariat in Vientiane, Laos, told Radio
"Despite the contract, the
construction of the Xayaburi dam must stop until
the new study is completed," Glahan said, adding
that the MRC members are consulting with one
another on how the environmental impact study will
Opponents of the project are
concerned that the dam, which would block fish
migration on Southeast Asia's main waterway, could
not only impact the lives of millions in the
region who rely on the river for their food and
their livelihoods, but also pave the way for other
hydropower projects on the river.
11 other dams have been proposed on the mainstream
lower Mekong, in addition to five already built on
the upper part of the river in China.
of them are in Laos, which, with over 70
hydropower dams in total planned on its rivers,
has said it hopes to become the "battery" of
Reported by RFA's Lao
service. Translation by Max Avary. Written in
English by Rachel Vandenbrink
(Copyright 1998-2012 Radio Free
Asia. All rights reserved. Republished with
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