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Cambodian Fishermen Urge Better Studies on Lao Dam

Cambodian non-governmental organization activists shout slogans during protest against of proposed Don Sahong dam in a tourist boat along the Tonle Sap river, Phnom Penh, Sept. 11, 2014.

As Cambodia prepares for a regional meeting over a contentious Lao dam on the Mekong River, fishing communities in Stung Treng province have appealed to Laos to cancel the project.

The Don Sahong dam would be built on the Mekong, two kilometers from the Cambodian border. While some critics warn it could endanger livelihoods downriver, other say communities upstream in Thailand and downstream in Cambodia both face a risk of fish shortages if the dam is completed.

Fisherman Kong Chanthy, of Stung Treng’s Thala Barivat district bordering Laos, tells VOA's Khmer service the Laos government should conduct a cross-border feasibility study before going ahead with the plan.

“It is very close to the border ... on the white zone, [so] I want to request to our government of Cambodia to reconsider about this issue and talk with the Laos government to find common ground solutions," he said. "I would like to send this message to the Laos government, stakeholders and decision makers [and ask] if they have conducted feasibility study about the impacts on the people living downstream.”

The chief of a fishing community not far downstream from the proposed site, Sek Sophal, says 200 families there would be affected by the dam.

“I request to NGOs and the government to not support the Don Sahong project and to stop it immediately,” he told VOA Khmer.

The Mekong River Commission will hold a regional public meeting on December 12 to discuss the project.

Cambodia has held regional and national level meetings at least three times to hear people’s concerns over the project, which is being built by a Malaysian company.

Duong Pov, deputy governor of Cambodia's Stung Treng district, says people living along the Mekong River bordering Laos do not want the project to happen.

“In short, people do not want the dam to exist,” he said. “If built, it will affect us. Once it exists, the solutions would be complicated. We do not know what to do to prevent it from happening.”

Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian communities have protested the dam project, though Laos has had Mega First conduct a feasibility study. But civic groups and environmentalists say that study has not complied with international standards, particularly the cross-border impacts of the dam.

Hans Guttman, CEO of the MRC Secretariat, said in statement that the Dec. 12 consultation will be a chance for Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to express concerns over the project.

“The process is also an opportunity for Lao PDR, who proposes the project for development, to better understand the concerns and to consider measures to address them,” he said in a written statement.

But Te Navuth, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Committee, said Laos is likely to go ahead with the plan, regardless of objections.

“I think that Laos is already prepared for the construction because they have planned and studied about the project for four or five years already," he said. "They didn’t plan and build it the same year. They have conducted a lot of studies in the past.”

Lao officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The Don Sahong dam would generate 260 megawatts of electricity.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.