Cambodia Warns Laos Over Mekong Dam

Phnom Penh threatens to take Laos to court if it moves ahead unilaterally with the Xayaburi dam project.

xayaburiconstruction-305.jpg A caterpillar works on the access road to the Xayaburi dam in Laos in an undated photo.
Photo appears courtesy of International Rivers

Updated at 6:30 p.m. EST on 2012-04-25

Cambodia has threatened to haul Laos into an international court if it allows a Thai company to push ahead with construction of the Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River without any regional consensus.
The warning came two days after Thai firm Ch. Karnchang signed a U.S. $1.7 billion dollar contract to go full steam ahead with the hydropower project in northern Laos even though governments in the region have not cleared the dam’s construction, also opposed by green groups.
Sin Niny, permanent vice-chairman of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee, urged Laos to abide by regional agreements made under the auspices of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body of four countries that share the river.

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam had agreed in principle at a previous summit in December that further studies on the impact of the damwhich would be the first mainstream dam on the Lower Mekongwere needed before it could be built.

“There must be a discussion before Laos can proceed with the construction. If Laos has decided unilaterally, then according to law, we can file a complaint to an international court,” he told RFA Thursday.

He did not cite any courts, but disputes of such nature are usually handled by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the primary judicial organ of the United Nations.

Sin Niny said the committee would wait until after the MRC’s upcoming summit in Japan before making any decision.

Tokyo summit

Leaders from the four countries will take part in the talks in Tokyo on Friday and Saturday and are expected to map out a new cooperation plan for management of the river resources through 2015.

Ch. Karnchang signed the agreement with Xayaburi Power Co. on Tuesday that set the start date for the construction as March 15, 2012.

Preliminary construction in the area, including work on access roads and the relocation of villages, has already begun without the blessings of the regional leadership.
Lao officials contacted by RFA on Thursday refused to comment on the contract or construction.

Ch. Karnchang representatives also refused to provide other details on the construction of the dam before its shareholders’ meeting scheduled for April 24.

The 1,260-megawatt dam would provide 95 percent of its electricity to Thailand.
Sin Niny added that the recent news about the dam’s construction did not surprise him, saying that both Thailand and Laos were eager to go ahead with the project for mutual benefit.
“It is about interest. The company that is building the dam is Thai, and when the construction is finished they will sell the electricity to Thailand, so both Thailand and Laos will benefit from the project,” he said.

Activists in Thailand, including an environmental group with representatives from riparian communities in eight northeastern provinces in the country, have opposed the dam and said they will stage a protest in Bangkok next week.

Meach Mean, coordinator for the Cambodian NGO Mekong Conservation, accused Laos of violating the MRC’s agreement that Lao would suspend the construction until further studies are conducted.

He added that millions of people in the region rely on the river for their livelihoods.
“The dam will seriously affect countries downstream on the Mekong. It would affect the water flow,” he said.

The Mekong River, Southeast Asia’s main artery, flows through China, Tibet, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
The Xayaburi dam would be the first mainstream dam on the Lower Mekong, aside from five already built on the Upper Mekong in China.

Laos, which has planned over 70 dams on its rivers, has said it hopes to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia.

Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer service and Nontharat Phaicharoen for RFA's Lao service. Translated by Samean Yun and Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.


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Apr 21, 2012 10:01 PM

It seems to me that Sin Niny has no any notion of international Law having warned to Bring Laos to the court for the construction the hydroelectric dams across the Mekong in its territory. Laos has a sovereign right to build those dams in its territory and there is no any court that has the competence to order Laos to stop it.

Apr 21, 2012 03:16 PM


Apr 26, 2012 05:01 PM

It's the right and territory of Laos. And for the prosperity of all Lao nation and poverty eradication, Lao Government should go gogogogogog ahead. Sin Niny, yo can persuade your parents or all your cousin to protest China and bring China to Hague.
Laos has always given a wonderful cooperation to her neighboring countries, including Khmer. Many of here might be aware that during relocation of MRC secretariat from Bangkok to the countries having capital cities located along Mekong River. All GMS countries had agreed to relocate in Vientiane Capital of Laos. Contradictorily, Khmer had objected the relocation to Vientiane and had proposed to rotate the MRC secretariat in every 4 years between Phnom Penh and Vientiane.

Apr 22, 2012 12:30 AM

Cambodia should be warning China instead of Lao, Why? Do you think, Cambodia can ask China to destroy all dams in upper stream Mekong?
China can build any dams in their Land, but why Lao cannot do?

All the best

Apr 24, 2012 07:07 PM

Laos and Thailand only care about $$$, Cambodia cares about the environment. Whose side are you on?

Apr 24, 2012 01:14 AM

I like to remind SIN NINY that the resolutions and decisions adopted by the MRC are of consultative nature without any legal binding with which Laos might comply or not. That was in the spirit of cooperation that Laos has accepted to carry the studies on impact of the Dams. In International Law there is no organ of repression unlike the national law so you cannot bring Laos as a sovereign state to international court without its consent. Learn also that there is no supra national court that has a competence to give order to Laos to give up the construction of the Dams within its territory; it is its sovereign right.

Apr 23, 2012 01:45 AM

It seems to me that Sin Niny has no any notion of international Law having warned to Bring Laos to the court for the construction the hydroelectric dams across the Mekong in its territory. I like to see if Cambodia is capable to bring China to the Court as well for having built 4 hydroelectric dams on the same watercourse body. I don’t believe that there is any court that has a supra national competence to order Laos to give up the construction of the dams across the Mekong in its territory. The cases are not of the same nature with the Pra Viharn temple one that was a territorial conflict between Thailand and Cambodia in 10960.