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Dam research awaiting funds

Nearly two months after Laos’ controversial Xayaburi dam project was placed on hold amid calls for “further development studies of projects on the Mekong”, those studies remain without a start date.

The Cambodia National Mekong Committee said yesterday that it is still awaiting approval from the Lao and Thai governments on a regional agreement to request financial support from Japan and development partners for the studies.

Te Navuth, secretary-general of the CNMC, said that at a Mekong River Commission council meeting in Siem Reap in December, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam had agreed “in principle” to request the support, but Thailand and Laos had “reserved the right” to seek further approval from their governments.

He added that as MRC council chair this year, Cambodia needs confirmation from Thailand and Laos before seeking assistance from Japan.

“We are awaiting the result from Thailand and Laos,” he said.

“Last week, [Thailand] said that they are still seeking the approval … while Laos did not reply yet.”

MRC communications officer Surasak Glahan said yesterday that the four countries had agreed to approach Japan as part of a verbal discussion between their prime ministers in Bali last year, but Thailand and Laos said at the MRC meeting that they required “additional national approval”.

However, he added that the MRC had not yet reached the stage of approaching donors, as the body was still seeking comment from member countries on the scope of the studies.

At the MRC meeting in December, the four countries agreed “in principle” to approach the Japanese government and other partners for support of further studies on the river’s management.

The proposed US$3.8 billion Xayaburi hydropower dam in northern Laos has drawn criticism from environmentalists about its potential transboundary impact, and drew concerns from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam at an MRC meeting in April last year.

Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director-general of the electricity department at the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines, yesterday referred questions to the Lao National Mekong Committee. Neither members of the LNMC nor Thai government spokespeople were available for comment.

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