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Laos agrees to new study on Mekong dam

by Staff Writers
Hanoi (AFP) May 10, 2011
Laos has agreed to conduct new research into the impact of a controversial proposed dam on the lower Mekong River after suspending work on the project, a senior official confirmed on Tuesday.

"Laos will hire advisers to conduct a study" of Vietnam's concerns about the $3.8 billion Xayaburi project, Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director general of Laos's Department of Electricity, told AFP.

"We will start as soon as possible."

He said the cost and time span of the research have not been finalised, but Thai construction group CH. Karnchang Public Co would be asked to fund it. The firm is playing a leading role in the Xayaburi project.

The official Vietnam News Agency reported over the weekend that Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong had informed his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung that the project would be temporarily suspended.

The report said the two leaders agreed to conduct research, possibly involving international experts, "to seek firm scientific ground for future decisions regarding the issue".

Daovong confirmed suspension of the project while the study takes place.

At a regional meeting last month, Vietnam, which has close political ties with tiny Laos, voiced "deep" concerns about inadequate assessments and the risk of damage to its fishing and farm industries.

It called for hydropower projects on the mainstream Mekong to be deferred for at least a decade.

Neighbouring Cambodia and Thailand have also raised worries about insufficient environmental studies into the dam's likely impact.

Workers had already begun building roads in northern Laos to the site for Xayaburi, which is the first of 11 such projects proposed for the mainstream lower Mekong.

Environmentalists have warned that damming that part of the river would trap vital nutrients, increase algae growth and prevent dozens of species of migratory fish -- including the giant catfish -- swimming upstream to spawning grounds.

More than 60 million people in the lower Mekong basin depend on the river system for food, transport and economic activity, says the Mekong River Commission, an inter-governmental body.

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world and sees hydropower as vital to its future.

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Vietnam says Laos suspends Mekong dam project
Hanoi (AFP) May 9, 2011
Laos has told Vietnam it will suspend work on a controversial dam planned for the Mekong River, official media reported, after Hanoi sought a 10-year deferment of the scheme. Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong informed his counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung "of Laos' decision to temporarily suspend the Xayaburi hydropower project," Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported at the weekend from Jakarta ... read more

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