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Senate to call for review of Mekong-blasting accord

Kamol Sukin, THE NATION Jun 2, 2002

The Senate committee on the environment will ask the government to review an
agreement with China, Burma and Laos to carve out navigation channels on the
upper reaches of the Mekong River by blasting 12 major rapids, including two
in Thai territory.

The Mekong Commercial Navigation Agreement went into effect a year ago to
permit the removal of rocky hazards along the 331-kilometre waterway from
Yunnan in China to Chiang Rai province in Thailand. The four riparian
signatories expect the opening of the river to year-round shipping will
facilitate transportation and spur commerce and tourism.

Three shallows have already been blasted early this year.

The review is necessary because the project's impact on the environment is
excessive and the deal was put together without consulting local residents
whose livelihoods would be adversely affected by the project, committee
spokesman Tuenjai Deethes said.

"An official request to the government will be submitted after our study on
the project, its impacts and international law is completed," committee
chairman Panas Tassaneeyanond said.

"It's obvious that the project could lead to the extinction of several
Mekong wildlife species, including a severely endangered giant catfish,"
Tuenjai said.

Since the project is already under way, the committee will seek practical
recommendations to make to the government, Panas said.

"We want to increase the transparency of the project and the accord," he
said.

In response to a request from residents in Chiang Rai, the committee is
sending four of its members there today to gather first-hand information
about the project's impact. The visit will kick off the committee's
investigation.Panas will lead the team. The other members are Uthaiwan
Sa-nguansermsri, Tuenjai from Chiang Rai and Wirun Fuensaen. It plans to
hold discussions with both local villagers and the provincial chamber of
commerce, a strong supporter of the project. It is also scheduled to inspect
the proposed blasting site in Chiang Khong district.

Jeerasak Inthayos, a villager belonging to the Rak Chiang Khong group, said
residents, after discussing their views about the project, had agreed to
oppose it as it would destroy their fisheries.

Chainarong Setthachua of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network in Thailand, a
Chiang Mai-based environmental group, said the blasting of the islets would
seriously damage the Mekong ecology as the rapids provided natural spawning
grounds for the fish, many of which are migratory species.

"The agreement stated that the project would be conducted in a way that met
the legal standards of the four countries. We find that it does not meet our
legal standards on environmental-impact studies and public participation.
The project needs urgent review, and the blasting must be stopped in the
meantime," he said.


 
 

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