Gov’t Asks Laos to Keep Studying Pending Dam

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong asked Laos’ deputy prime minister for further study of the Don Sahong hydropower dam before construction begins during a meeting with the envoy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.

The planned 256-megawatt dam to be built on the Mekong River just 2 km from the Cambodian border has long been a source of tension between Laos and its neighbors, who fear its potential to wreak environmental havoc. The Laotian parliament recently approved a concession agreement paving the way for construction to begin, likely by the end of the year.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, center, speaks with Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad as they leave a meeting in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, center, speaks with Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad as they leave a meeting in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

In a statement released last month, more than forty Cambodian non-government groups expressed “strong disappointment” with the decision, saying that Laos had yet to properly assess possible impacts of the dam in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

“In the past, Cambodia, as well as other lower Mekong countries, have been concerned about construction of the Don Sahong dam and its effect on the environment, water flow and fish migration,” Mr. Namhong told reporters Tuesday following his meeting with Somsavat Lengsavad at the Foreign Ministry.

He added that Mr. Somsavat had told him that research conducted by Laos showed that the dam would not have any negative impacts.

“Laos has always said that the building of this dam is under the sovereignty of Laos. So I just asked for further study until the start of building at the end of 2015,” Mr. Namhong said.

The foreign minister added that he had stressed to Mr. Somsavat the importance of the Mekong to Cambodians, noting the river’s relationship to the Tonle Sap lake and the country’s fish stocks.

Tek Vannara, executive director of the NGO Forum, said that construction of the Don Sahong must be deferred until a more thorough study is carried out.

“Laos has only conducted an EIA [environmental impact assessment] in the area surrounding the Don Sahong,” Mr. Vannara said. “They have not conducted a trans-boundary study that includes the input of Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.”

“We want to ask the Laotian minister, ‘How will [Laos] resolve the issues of the 6 to 7 million Cambodian people who would be affected by the dam?” he said.

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