February 14, 2020 / 3:00 PM / 12 days ago

Thai villagers turn to court in protest over Mekong dam in Laos

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Villagers along the Mekong River have asked a court in Bangkok on Friday to slow down Thai purchases of electricity from a hydropower dam in Laos, which they say has harmed their livelihoods since it began operation last year.

The 1,285-megawatt Xayaburi Dam, financed by Thai companies and banks, is the first hydropower dam on the lower Mekong River in Laos and sells 90% of its power to Thailand. The start of its full commercial operation last year coincided with parts of the Mekong River drying to a trickle.

“We want a temporary measure to decelerate the purchasing of electricity in the initial agreement. We believe that if the buying is slowed down, then the power production would halt,” Rattanamanee Polkla, a lawyer representing the Mekong community told reporters.

“We can then take a look at the impact and conduct studies on how to mitigate them if power generation resumes,” she said.

Officials from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) said that the state-owned company will continue to buy electricity from the Xayaburi Dam as long as there is no court order against it.

The same group of villagers took EGAT to court before in 2012, claiming that the construction of the Xayaburi Dam would damage the river’s ecosystem and therefore their livelihoods, but the court dismissed the complaint in 2016.

The villagers also on Friday lodged an official appeal to the 2016 court’s decision and said new evidence has emerged since the dam began full commercial operations last year.

“The concerns we raised eight years ago are now apparent,” Ormbun Thipsuna, a representative of the Mekong community in Thailand said.

“Whether the changes in the tide, the extra-dry conditions, the unusual daily fluctuation of the river and the missing sediment, these impacts are very clear,” she said.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, editing by Louise Heavens

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