Second Lower Mekong Dam in Laos Gets Go Ahead

International concerns about Lao’s plans to massively dam the Mekong River and its tributaries have again been brushed aside by the authorities in Vientiane who have announced new contracts worth about $1.0 billion to build three dams.

The dams will feed a hydropower plant on two tributaries of the Se Kong River, just 100 kilometers from Laos’ southern border with Cambodia. The Se Kong flows into the Mekong from the Bolaven Plateau which then feeds into the Lower Mekong Delta.

However, no environmental impact assessments are known to have been done and the incident has further stoked tensions between Laos and conservation groups and regional countries already angered with Vientiane and its attitude towards the construction of the U.S. $3.8 billion Xayaburi Dam to be built 150 kilometers downstream from the old royal capital city of Luang Prabang,

The Xe-Namnoy will be constructed by South Korean firm SK Engineering & Construction and will be aimed at producing 400 megawatts of electricity from water flowing from a height of 630 meters.

The New “Battery of Asia?” – The Diplomat.

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China concerned for Mekong frontier security in Yunnan

Zhou Yongkang, a Standing Committee member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said during an inspection tour of Yunnan between Oct. 27 and 29 that public security bureaus should strengthen border inspection and crack down hard on drug smuggling and terrorism.

Zhou’s visit came just over a month after a Myanmar drug runner and five of his gang members stood trial for the murders of 13 sailors on the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle Region on Oct. 5, 2011. Naw Kham, the principal suspect, pleaded guilty to murder in a local court in Yunnan.

With a length of almost 5,000 km, the Mekong is one of the most important waterways in Southeast Asia, linking China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It plays a crucial economic role among the Greater Mekong Sub-region countries.

Cargo ferry services, though briefly suspended following the murders, resumed on the river in December last year.

China has conducted joint patrols on the Mekong River with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand since the murders took place, said Zhou, adding that the patrols ensure shipping safety and showcase China’s innovative efforts in promoting international police cooperation.

via Senior official urges frontier security in Yunnan- China.org.cn.

Thai man nabbed with 16 tiger cubs in truck

A Thai man has been arrested with 16 tiger cubs in his pick-up truck while driving near the kingdom’s border with Laos, police said Saturday.

The 52-year-old was arrested Friday afternoon in Khon Kaen province in northeastern Thailand during a routine check by authorities, who found the cats, aged between six weeks and two months, in cages in the back of the vehicle.

Thailand, a hub of international smuggling, is one of just 13 countries hosting fragile tiger populations. Worldwide, numbers are estimated to have fallen to only 3,200 tigers from approximately 100,000 a century ago.

via Phuket News: Thai man nabbed with 16 tiger cubs in truck.

Laos Minister: ‘Neighbors Not Against Xayaburi’ | Radio Free Asia

From Radio Free Asia: Laos Minister: ‘Neighbors Not Against Xayaburi’.

Two months ago, Lao Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith announced at an ASEAN ministerial meeting that the dam project has been put off pending further studies, earning praise from many delegates.

At the same time, the official media in Vientiane gave a different story, saying the government will continue to allow developer Ch. Karnchang, a Thai company, to proceed with “scheduled” activities at the construction site, including the resettlement of affected villagers.

Independent groups who visited the project site also confirmed that construction work is indeed continuing.

Following subsequent statements by Lao officials, it was assumed by many that Laos has allowed the developer to begin initial construction pending further studies on the sustainability of the project.

Comprehensive review

Daravong’s remarks this week that Cambodia and Vietnam were not opposed to the project contradict previous statements by the two countries, which have jointly urged Laos to suspend the dam.

Te Navuth, secretary general of Cambodia’s National Mekong Committee, said in July that the two countries have asked Laos to allow more time for a comprehensive review of the dam.

“Its aim is to require Laos to extend the consultation time for the dam and wait for the results of research that show the dam’s [potential] impact on the mainstream Mekong River,” he said.

In April, Lim Kean Hor, Cambodia’s water resources minister, also demanded in a letter to his Lao counterpart Noulinh Sinbandhit that construction on the dam be suspended pending an environmental impact assessment.

The Mekong River Commission (MRC), an intergovernmental body including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam which manages development along Southeast Asia’s main waterway, had ruled that the dam project should not proceed until further assessment was conducted.

The decision followed an earlier recommendation by an expert study group for a 10-year moratorium on all mainstream Mekong dams due to a need for further research on their potentially catastrophic environmental and socioeconomic impact.

Minister Daravong denied that Cambodia and Vietnam are calling for a halt of the dam, saying that reports of their objections were simply not true.

The minister insists that the dam will be able to produce safe and clean energy and that it will not have any adverse environmental impact on neighboring countries.

Preparations for construction of the dam, including clearing the riverbank, have already begun, though the work is currently on hold due to the start of the rainy season, he said. 

Thailand

Environmental groups in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam have staged protests against the Xayaburi dam, saying it is likely to damage the Mekong ecosystem and fisheries and the food security of the people downstream.

Last month, a group of Thai villagers opposed to the dam submitted a lawsuit against five Thai government agencies, saying the government should not have agreed to purchase electricity from the dam without further study. 

The project is being financed by a consortium of Thai banks. 

Laos, which hopes to become the “battery” of Southeast Asia by selling hydroelectric power to its neighbors, has over 70 dams planned on its rivers.