Authorities Halt March Against Lao Dam, Citing Khmer New Year

Kompong Cham authorities blocked several hundred activists from marching Monday to raise awareness about the environmental dangers raised by Don Sahong dam, officials and activists said.

“We received a letter from the provincial government that say we are not allowed to campaign…because we don’t have a [permission] letter from the Minister of Interior,” said Youk Senglong, program manager at the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, which was organizing the four-day event.

He said his group canceled the march to avoid trouble with authorities.

The aim of the march was to call on the Lao government to halt construction of the Don Sahong dam, which will be located just 1.5 km from the Cambodian border. The dam will be located on the Hou Sahong channel, the only channel on the Mekong that allows for year-round fish migration. Environmentalists have said that the 256-MW dam will jeopardize the entire ecosystem of the river.

Kompong Cham provincial governor Lun Limthai confirmed that he banned the campaign.

“We did not allow them to hold this peace walk campaign because of two reasons. First, it affects public order as we are preparing for Khmer New Year,” which falls on April 14, Mr. Limthai said. “Second, it does not involve the people of Kompong Cham province.”

The Mekong River runs north to south through Kompong Cham. But Mr. Limthai said activists should confine their protests to provinces along the Lao border.

This weekend, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor will travel to Ho Chi Minh City to attend a meeting of the Mekong River Commission. There, they and representatives from Thailand and Vietnam are expected to once again ask for the dam to be halted.

“[T]he government isn’t ignoring this problem,” Mr. Kean Hor said Monday. He said the government was pressing Laos to send a copy of the project’s environmental impact assessment to the other Lower Mekong nations.

“Everything has to undergo an impact assessment,” he said.

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