Cambodia: villagers protest Laos dam project

More than 500 villagers held a march in eastern Cambodia‘s Kompong Cham province June 29 to protest a controversial dam project on the Mekong River in Laos that they charge is under construction despite a pledge to halt progress while officials conduct a new impact study. The protest against the $3.8 billion Xayaburi Dam was led by monks and included students, peasants, and activists nongovernmental organizations. The protesters called on the leaders of the four nations downstream from the dam—Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam—to demand a halt to construction at the site, citing concerns that the project would negatively impact millions of people in the region and irreparably damage the environment. Laos committed to the review by a Japanese firm in December at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia after drawing criticism that its own environmental impact study was inadequate.

The Venerable Sann Leang, executive director of NGO Environmental Development and an organizer of the march, said the villagers sought to draw attention to the negative impacts of the dam, especially the destruction of natural resources that riparian communities rely on to survive. “We are raising awareness for the people who live in Kompong Cham province near the Mekong River,” the monk said. “We are seeking an intervention to halt the dam construction.”

“We anticipate a negative impact on the people, environment, and fish population,” Kompong Cham governor Thuch Phat told the crowd, calling on Laotian authorities to uphold their agreement to halt construction pending the new study. Laos currently has 14 operational hydro-dams, with 10 under construction, and 56 proposed or in planning stages. The Lao government has said it hopes to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia. The 1,260-megawatt Xayaburi complex would provide 95% of its electricity to Thailand, which is overseeing construction of the project. (RFA, Asia Sentinel, June 29)

See our last post on regional struggles for control of water.

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