Vietnam Joins Cambodia on Xayaburi Opposition

The two countries will call on Laos to wait for further studies on the Mekong dam.
2012-07-06
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xayaburi-map-305
A map showing Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos.
RFA

Cambodia and Vietnam will jointly urge Laos to suspend the controversial Xayaburi dam, a Cambodian official said Tuesday, following reports that the project’s construction is moving ahead despite government pledges to wait for further study.

With the letter, Vietnam will join Cambodia in stepping up its opposition to the U.S. $3.5 billion hydropower project, the first of 11 proposed dams on the mainstream Lower Mekong River.

Te Navuth, secretary general of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee, said the two countries have agreed that their prime ministers will send a joint letter to urging Laos to allow more time for a comprehensive review of the dam, which has sparked concerns over its environmental impact.

“Its aim is to require Laos to extend the consultation time for the dam and wait for the results of research that show the dam’s [potential] impact on the mainstream Mekong River,” said Te Navuth, secretary general of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee.

The agreement comes after a meeting between Cambodia’s Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor and Vietnam’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Nguyen Minh Quan in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

Te Navuth said the letter, expected before the end of July, would also be sent to Thailand, which is providing financial backing for the1,260-megawatt hydropower project and will receive 95 percent of its electricity.

“The letter will be drafted by Vietnam, then signed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and sent to the prime ministers of Laos and Thailand,” he said.

He added that Cambodia and Vietnam had made the decision at a meeting in June between their prime ministers at conference in Vietnam's Kien Giang province on mutual investment in their countries.

"In Kien Giang, the two governments agreed to write a joint letter from the prime ministers,” Te Navuth said.

Mekong River Commission

As the first dam on the mainstream Lower Mekong, the Xayaburi dam is also the first to undergo a regional review process through the Mekong River Commission (MRC), a four-nation body that manages development along the river and has expressed reservations over the project.

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.

One study commissioned by the group recommended a 10-year moratorium on all mainstream Mekong dams due to a need for further research on their potentially catastrophic environmental and socioeconomic impact.

Cambodia has already lodged its official protest with Laos over the project, warning Lao MRC representatives in a letter in April not to allow the dam to move ahead.

The letter followed earlier threats from Cambodia to take Laos to international court over the dam.

In May, a group of Vietnamese scientists urged Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnam's National Mekong Committee to protest the dam directly to the Lao government.

The team of experts from the Vietnam Rivers Network insisted that the dam will directly threaten the livelihoods of around 20 million residents in the Mekong Delta, as well as Vietnam's national and regional food security, the newspaper said.

In late April, another Vietnamese scientists’ group, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Association, voiced its concern over the dam, which it also said will threaten regional food security and affect the lives of millions downstream, particularly in the Mekong Delta, the heart of the country’s rice production.

Construction

On Tuesday, Lao Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong vowed to stall construction on the dam until all of the neighboring countries’ concerns have been resolved, state media reported.

"The Xayaburi project will develop one of the most transparent and modern dams in the world," the Vientiane Times quoted him as saying.

However, construction on the project has plowed ahead in recent months.

In late June, after investigating the site, environmental group International Rivers said that construction and resettlement activities on the Xayaburi Dam have been “significant” and contradict claims that only preliminary work has been done on the project.

A member of a Thai NGO associated with International Rivers said that Ch. Karnchang, the Thai developer tasked with construction of the hydropower project, has already begun to build a dam wall where a village used to be. The NGO staff member said that the more than 330 residents from 65 villages had been resettled to a new area.

Controversy over the dam has flared since April, when Ch. Karnchang said it had signed a contract for the project’s construction, even though the MRC had recommended the project be postponed pending further research.

Environmental groups in Thailand and Cambodia have staged protests against the company and a group of Thai banks lending the firm funds to proceed with construction.

The Chiang Rai-based Lower Mekong People’s Network, which represents communities from seven different provinces in Thailand along the Mekong River, plans to file a lawsuit against the company in July.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Laos next week for talks that are expected to focus on the Lower Mekong Initiative, which is aimed at enhancing political cooperation among the four riparian countries.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Comments (4)
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laotadeng

from USA

Laos needs to learn from China how to proceed to building the hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River.The requirement and conditions put forward by the downstream countries are selfish and intrinsic; their real intention is to kill the dam's projects on the Mekong for good.It seems to me that they are looking to monopolize the Mekong for their exclusive use to rice farming and fishing.The upstream countries are deprived of right to use the mekong for their own interests.

Jul 13, 2012 04:44 PM

Anonymous Reader

We, the Lao people are not the only people that against this dam; just because we cannot take our voices to the street and tell the world what is right and wrong by build this dam. Vietnam and Cambodia are also against this dam as well as the people of Thailand. Lao is a tiny country and keep building dam all over this tiny country will not elevate Lao people from poverty, but a major destruction on environmental and economic disasters.

Jul 10, 2012 02:19 PM

Anonymous Reader

It is an honor for Laos to welcome Ms.Clinton the top and great diplomat from the United States on its soil. Laos as one of the least developed, one of the poorest countries in the world and famous as the most bombed on earth needs to rely on the hydroelectric dams on the Mekong in order to bring itself from the poverty. Any advice and indirect influence to stop the construction of the dams from outside to please any new ally au detriment of Laos’s interests are not welcome.

Jul 09, 2012 11:04 PM

Anonymous Reader

If possible, we would like Max Avary & Rachel Vandenbrink Lao service to take these questions directly to U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton.

In regarding to U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton to visit Lao, we the Lao people urging Hillary Clinton to pressure the Lao Communist Government to do the following things:
1. Stop Xaiyaburi Dam.
2. Urging the Lao communist
government to release those
political prisoners.
3. To pressure the Lao communist
government to enact Democratic
Reforms(Just as she did in
Burma).

Jul 08, 2012 04:45 PM