| BANGKOK, June 27
BANGKOK, June 27 A Laotian official said on
Friday his government would allow environmental assessments
before proceeding with construction of a dam on the Mekong River
that activists and neighbouring states say could hurt the
livelihoods of fishermen and farmers.
Laos went ahead with the much bigger Xayaburi dam despite
opposition from Vietnam and Cambodia. It was more conciliatory
over the Don Sahong dam at a meeting in Bangkok of the Mekong
River Commission Council grouping countries along the river.
Officials from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam agreed
on Thursday to the consultation process for the dam, which is
still in the planning phase.
Viraphone Viravong, Laos's vice minister of energy and
mines, told reporters that construction would not start during
the six-month consultation process.
"No, we will not start building. That is courtesy. Laotians
are courteous," he told reporters.
Don Sahong is the second of 11 hydroelectric dams planned
for the Mekong mainstream and forms part of Laos's ambitions to
become the "battery of Southeast Asia".
It will generate 260 megawatts of electricity, mainly for
export to Thailand and Cambodia compared to Xayaburi's 1,260
megawatts, around 95 percent of which will go to Thailand.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia programme director for the
environmentalist group International Rivers, welcomed the
decision, but said further action was needed "to ensure that the
rapid progress of dam building on the Mekong ... does not go
Laos's dam projects have raised concern about disturbance of
fish migration as well as the livelihoods of hundreds of
thousands of fishermen.
Viraphone said Laos was addressing such concerns.
"No matter what happens to Don Sahong, whether it is delayed
or stopped, we will continue to improve fish migration because
that is the only way to have a substainable fish industry in
Laos," he said.
Laos accepted environmental and other studies for the
Xayaburi dam after pressure from its neighbours, but went ahead
with construction even while they were being conducted.
Xayaburi is now almost 40 percent finished, Viraphone said.
"Everything has gone according to plan."
The recommendations resulting from the studies of the Don
Sahong project would not be binding on Laos.
"It is still a sovereign decision by the member country
whether they go ahead with the project or not," Hans Guttman,
head of the Mekong River Commission, said after the meeting.
(Editing by Alan Raybould, Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Ron Popeski)