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Groups Call for Halt on Construction of Major Dam in Laos

Cambodian non-governmental organization (NGOs) activists shout slogans during a protest against a proposed Don Sahong dam, in a tourist boat along the Tonle Sap river, in Phnom Penh, file photo.

The environmental group International Rivers has called on Laos to suspend construction of a major dam on the Mekong River and to continue talks with its concerned neighbors downstream.

The Don Sahong Dam, which would spread across the river just above the Cambodian border, is a major concern for many, who say its impacts have not been well studied and who worry its construction could devastate fisheries that millions of people rely on. Laos has said it will move forward with construction of the dam, despite protests from Cambodia and Vietnam.

“The Don Sahong Dam poses a significant threat to livelihoods and food security throughout the region, and endangers the future of the Mekong River and regional development opportunities,” Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, said in a statement.

She called on Mekong countries and the Mekong River Commission “to make clear how deliberations on the Don Sahong Dam will move forward, and to ensure that the process is transparent and participatory, with critical input from Mekong people.”

The statement follows meetings by the Mekong River Commission, a joint body made up of Mekong countries, that have ended with differing views among those states. The commission has been essentially silent since its last meeting in January.

Luy Rasmey, executive director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, which works with communities along the river in Cambodia, said villagers have not been properly represented in dam deliberations. “One village representative per province is not sufficient,” she said.

Critics of the dam, including downstream countries and many NGOs, say they want better environmental assessments of its potential impacts. Trandem called the decision-making process one of “regional and international importance.”

Kol Vathana, deputy secretary-general for the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said disagreement remains among countries on technical aspects of the project. “Laos has said that previous discussions are finished. That’s what they said. But for us, we have said they are not finished yet, since there is not a consensus yet.”

It remains unclear whether more talks will be held, or, if they are, what they will yield, he said. “We cannot predict the situation before it happens.”