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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        23  March 2011

Activists join forces against Laos' Xayaburi Dam plan

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A group of 263 non-governmental organizations from 51 countries has called on Laos to cancel its proposed hydropower dam project on the Mekong River in Xayaburi province, representatives of the group said Tuesday.

The coalition of environmentalists and civil rights groups sent a letter to Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong Monday urging him to shelve the Xayaburi Dam project at the upcoming meeting of the Mekong River Commission, scheduled for 25-26 March in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The commission includes the four governments of the countries on the lower parts of the Mekong River - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Vietnam has already objected to the project in northern Laos on the grounds that it could adversely impact fisheries and soil in its southern delta where the Mekong empties into the South China Sea.

The coalition of NGOs also urged Thailand to cancel plans to buy electricity from the proposed Xayaburi hydropower plant.

'The Thai government considers dams as a type of project that can be harmful to the environment, so how can the Xayaburi Dam be built without questioning and fully understanding how it will impact millions of people basin-wide?' said Chanida Chanyapate Bamford of the group Focus on the Global South.

Since 2009, tens of thousands of people have submitted petitions and letters to the region's prime ministers and to the Mekong River Commission, calling for the Mekong River to remain free-flowing and for Thailand not to purchase electricity from the dam.

'The Xayaburi Dam will trigger an ecological crisis of tremendous proportions,' said Shalmali Guttal of Focus on the Global South. 'We urge the prime ministers of Laos and Thailand to show leadership by cancelling this project.'

The Xayaburi Dam is one of 11 large dams proposed for the Mekong River's lower mainstream. China has already built four hydropower dams in Yunnan province on the upper mainstream of the Mekong, the longest-waterway in mainland South-East Asia.

According to past reports by the Mekong River Commission, the Xayaburi Dam threatens the extinction of more than 41 fish species, including the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish.

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