At Summit, Cambodia Urges Laos to Delay Dam Construction

At a regional summit in Vietnam on Saturday, Cambodia once again urged Laos to delay construction on a controversial hydropower dam being planned just north of their shared border.

Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor briefed reporters at the Phnom Penh International Airport after he returned on Saturday with Prime Minister Hun Sen and other ministers from the second Mekong River Commission Summit in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We asked the Lao side first to study and research the environmental impacts and then to send the results of the research to the member countries of the Mekong River Commission in six months, before it starts to build the dam,” he said.

Laos is planning to build the 256 MW Don Sahong dam across a channel of the Mekong within two km from the Cambodian border. Environmentalists and researchers warn that the dam could seriously interfere with fish migration.

The 1995 Mekong River Agreement requires consensus on any dam project along the mainstream Mekong before construction can begin. Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam all oppose the Don Sahong. But Laos, also a member of the Mekong River Commission, claims the rules do not apply to the Don Sahong because it will cross only one of several channels of the river at that spot.

Mr. Kean Hor did not say whether Laos responded to Cambodia’s renewed call for a delay.

But he said the “main success” of the summit was a declaration approved by all four commission members on Saturday, which included language recommitting them to respect the 1995 Mekong Agreement.

The Ho Chi Minh City Declaration names population growth, increasing demand for food, water and energy and climate change among the region’s main challenges. It also commits the members to conducting a study on the sustainable development of the Mekong, with a focus on the effects of mainstream dams.

But International Rivers, a U.S.-based advocacy group that wants work on the Don Sahong halted until more studies are conducted and fully reviewed, said the commission members were too soft on Laos.

“We are disappointed that leaders did not condemn the current rush of dam building on the Mekong mainstream,” it said in a statement on Saturday.

“The ability to make informed decisions based on sound data and scientific study should be a prerequisite for starting deliberations over whether to build dams on the Mekong River mainstream,” the statement continues.

“Words without actions are meaningless. The Lao government must stop its free reign of Mekong mainstream dam building.”

Cambodia is scheduled to host the next commission summit in 2018.

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