Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Clinton Presses Laos for More Studies on Mekong Dam in Visit

Clinton Presses Laos for More Studies on Mekong Dam in Visit

By Daniel Ten Kate and Nicole Gaouette - Jul 11, 2012 2:30 AM PT

Hillary Clinton pushed Laos for more studies on a $3.6 billion
hydropower dam on the Mekong River opposed by neighboring countries in
the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State in 57 years.

The trip is part of a broader sweep Clinton is making through Asia as
the U.S. increases its engagement with the world�s fastest growing
economies, in part to counter China�s growing clout. Laos, a
landlocked nation of 6 million people bordering China, plans to expand
its generating capacity and sell electricity to its neighbors.

Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong assured Clinton that the
Xayaburi power project wouldn�t proceed without approval from
neighboring countries, according to a State Department official who
wasn�t authorized to speak on the record. Laos plans to hold an
international conference about the project to ease concerns, the
official said.

The dam remains an area of contention as the U.S. seeks to broaden its
engagement with Laos, which is still struggling with unexploded
ordnance left over from the Vietnam War. Clinton discussed cooperation
on the deadly material as well as accounting for U.S. personnel who
remain missing, according to a joint statement. Laos is the smallest
economy among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Dam Studies
The Xayaburi dam�s approval may pave the way for seven others that
Laos plans to build on the Mekong. The government has aimed to
convince its neighbors by showing them studies it commissioned from
Compagnie Nationale du Rh�ne and Switzerland- based Poyry Energy AG.

�Both the reports of Poyry and CNR indicated that the project has
created a negligible impact in respect of environmental and social
considerations,� Xaypaseuth Phomsoupha, director-general of Laos�s
Ministry of Energy and Mines, told reporters in Bangkok on June 20.

While Laos is building access roads and other infrastructure around
the dam site, construction on the river itself won�t start �in the
absence of the sign-off from our neighbors,� he said.

Vietnam has recommended a 10-year delay for all hydropower projects
over environmental concerns on the river, which winds through Myanmar,
Thailand and Cambodia from its source in China�s Tibetan plateau.
About 60 million people along the Mekong depend on the river and its
tributaries for food, water and transportation.

Thai Financiers
In 2010, Thailand made an initial agreement to buy 95 percent of the
electricity from the Xayaburi plant, which will have a capacity of
1,285 megawatts.

Ch. Karnchang Pcl (CK), Thailand�s third-biggest construction company
by market value, owns a 57.5 percent stake in the Xayaburi project.
PTT Pcl (PTT), Thailand�s biggest company, has a 25 percent stake and
Electricity Generating Pcl (EGCO) owns 12.5 percent.

In her meetings with Thongsing and Deputy Prime Minister Thongloun
Sisoulith, Clinton discussed environmental protection, Laos�s entry to
the World Trade Organization and the reintegration of ethnic minority
Hmong people who fled to Thailand in 2009, according to the statement.
The U.S. resettled 130,000 Hmong who fled to Thailand from 1975 to
1996, according to the State Department.

Unauthorized by Congress, U.S. planes dropped the equivalent of one
plane-load of bombs over Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day,
between 1964 and 1973, according to the non-profit Virginia-based
advocacy group, Legacies of War.

Unexploded Bombs
Intended to stop communist ground incursions and disrupt North
Vietnamese traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the bombings left Laos
the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. One ton of
bombs was dropped for every man, woman, and child in Laos at the time.

Today, an estimated one third of land remains unusable because of
unexploded ordnance, making it unavailable for food production or
development, according to Legacies of War. In the 40 years since the
war ended, 20,000 people have been killed or maimed by dormant
explosives hidden in the soil.

Clinton�s visit demonstrates that she �recognizes that bringing along
the less developed countries of the lower Mekong region is key for
stability and development in the region,� Brett Dakin, head of
Legacies of War�s board of directors, said in an e-mail. �However,� he
said, �Laos will not reach its full potential as long as much of its
land is still contaminated with unexploded bombs.�

To contact the reporters on this story: Nicole Gaouette in Washington
at; Daniel Ten Kate in Phnom Penh at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Brinsley at

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