Visiting Cambodia, Laos and Thailand over the past three weeks leaves me in no doubt that issues associated with the Mekong continue to be a subject of sharp controversy, both as a result of the Lao Government’s decision to build a dam at Don Sahong and the Cambodian Government’s decision to go ahead with the Lower Se San 2 dam on the biggest tributary flowing into the Mekong in that country.
As Laos appears set to proceed with its dam at Don Sahong, it has come under criticism from both Cambodia and Vietnam for its failure to follow proper processes through the Mekong River Commission, a replay of how it behaved in relation to the dam at Xayaburi, now under construction. The former environment minister in the Cambodian Government, Mak Moreth, has been sharply critical of Lao behaviour and this criticism has been echoed from Vietnam.
But so far I have not seen or heard recent public criticism of Laos’ plans in relation to Don Sahong from the Cambodian National Mekong Committee to match remarks about this project made in 2009 by the Committee’s Permanent Vice President, Sin Niny, when he drew attention to the damage a dam at Don Sahong could cause to fish stocks in the Mekong River.
It is difficult to know the extent to which muted Cambodian criticism from serving officials reflects a decision by Hun Sen to prevent them engaging in attacks on Lao policy, as happened when it became clear that the Lao Government was set on going ahead with its dam at Xayaburi. What is clear is the fact that Cambodian ministers are for the most part not particularly interested in issues associated with the Mekong, being either unaware of the science involved in warnings against depletion of fish stocks or discounting its validity.