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China urged to drop plan for blasting river rapids

Anchalee Kongrut and Porpot Changyawa, Bangkok Post, Dec 13, 2002 

Villagers protested in front of the Chinese embassy yesterday urging Beijing to drop a plan to clear reefs in the Mekong river.

Villagers in Chiang Rai, affected by the Mekong Navigation Channel Improvement Project, yesterday submitted a letter to the Chinese embassy asking Beijing to drop the project.

Villagers want a new environmental impact assessment held.

``We don't know whether the Chinese government will have a chance to read it. But we have to tell them that their project is not good for people in other countries,'' said Prasong Tanasombat, 60, a fisherman from Chiang Khong district.

The protest was part of a campaign by villagers and NGOs to put pressure on Thailand, China, Burma and Laos to halt the project.

They say the environment will be damaged by big ships ferrying goods from Yunnan to Chiang Rai.

The blasting work will extend the channel to enable 500-tonne ships to reach Luang Prabang in Laos.

The blasting is expected to start on Sunday. Khong Phi Luang, a reef in Thai waters in Chiang Rai, would be cleared early next year.

The Chinese government donated 220 million baht for the work and a Chinese-owned company was appointed to do the work for Laos, Burma and Thailand.

Beijing also backed an environmental impact assessment but villagers and environmentalists say it was done in too much of a rush.

Initiated by China in 1992, the project aims to improve international trade links by enabling passage for larger cargo ships. China, Burma, Laos and Thailand signed an agreement last June to widen the navigation channel of the 5,594-kilometre river.

Under the scheme agreed by Burma, China, Laos and Thailand last year, 11 major reefs in the river would be cleared. Praphat Panyachartrak, minister for natural resources and environment, said he would look into the likely impact on the Mekong river's ecology. 


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