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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Communities Want More Information on Mekong Dam

A Western construction worker surveys ongoing work to build a power plant for the Nam Theun 2 dam, south of Vientiane, Laos, (file photo).

As a decision nears for Mekong River countries over approval of a hydroelectric dam in Laos, Cambodian civic groups say they have been given few chances to have their voice in the matter heard.

Laos is proposing to build a dam along the Mekong in Xayaburi province, but it needs the approval of other Mekong countries, including Cambodia, in a meeting scheduled in Laos next week. Critics of the dam say it will hurt ecosystems in the river that provide a major source of fish for Cambodians.

Sun Mao, executive director of Kratie province’s Cambodian Rural Development Team, told “Hello VOA” last week that many people still do not understand the dam project or the process for its approval.

“No member of the affected communities were present at the [Kratie] consultation,” he said of a meeting held in the province in February. “But local authorities were invited instead the represent these communities.

The Kratie consultation meeting was the first of two held on the dam. The second was held in Preah Sihanouk province later in February.

The Xayaburi dam is a proposed 810 meters long, 32 meters high and expected to produce 1,260 megawatts of power. The Mekong River Commission, which is made up of committees from all Mekong River countries, will decide on the project April 22.

Sun Mao said there is still little understanding of the dam’s likely impact on a variety of factors, including fish migration and safety concerns in a quake-prone region. The impacts have been “understudied,” he said, “and the dissemination of information on the environmental, social, and cultural impacts, etc. has not been adequate to either civil society groups or affected communities.”

At the February consultations, participants were briefed on the designs of the dam and the decision-making process for its construction, but Sun Mao said the environmental impact report was not distributed.

A Mekong River Commission official recently told VOA Khmer that Cambodia could lose as much as 63 percent of the total regional fisheries loss, if six proposed dams went ahead in Laos. The Xayaburi dam would be the first of those.

International Rivers, and environmental group that opposes the dam, said recently that consultations took place in Thailand and Vietnam over the proposed dam, but it is unclear whether any took place in Laos.

In March, 263 non-governmental groups from 51 countries submitted a letter to leaders from Laos and Thailand, which will derive power from the dam, asking that they scrap the Xayaburi project.

Sun Mao said more studies are necessary, especially now that Cambodia’s own civic groups have a better understanding of the issue.

“If there is construction of a mainstream dam, we are certain that we will be affected,” he said. “The scale of this we do not know.”
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Groups Unite To Push Changes to NGO Law

More than 300 local and international organizations have now joined cause in opposition to a controversial draft law to regulate NGOs.

The groups said in a statement the law threatens civic freedoms and could curtail the activities of NGOs that are critical to the development of the country.

“NGOs and Associations stand ready to use our democratic rights to express our discontent through democratic and peaceful means,” the groups said. “The draft law we now see before us is unacceptable, and we cannot support it in its current form.”

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other major international groups have called on the government to spike the law entirely, and US officials say they fear it is “unnecessary” and could curb basic freedoms.

Government supporters of the law, which is being drafted by the Ministry of Interior, say it is necessary to regulate a huge sector, where thousands of NGOs operate.

Opponents say the draft opens organizations to legal attack without redress for government dissent and could hurt smaller groups that want to form associations.

“We would like to point out three main areas of concern in the current second draft Law,” the groups said in their joint statement. “Registration is mandatory and complex, rather than voluntary and simple. There is no appeal process for the denial of registration and key terms in the law are left undefined, and many sections are vague.”

“I think that it can affect the freedom in the establishment of associations that is guaranteed by the constitution and the freedom in expression that is guaranteed by the constitution,” said Sok Samoeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

NGOs say their recommendations made during a consultative process were not given credence and that new drafts did not address their concerns.

In their statement, the 300 groups did not call for a scrapping of the law altogether, but urged the government to “reconsider” their key requests and redraft the law.

Nouth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said he was accepting recommendations before sending the draft for approval from Interior Minister Sar Kheng. After that, the law will be sent to the Council of Ministers for approval before debate.
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JSM completes sale of Cambodia portfolio - JSM Indochina has completed the disposal of its Cambodia assets with agreed sale of its Siem Reap leasehold interest to Hongkong Land (Singapore).

Siem Reap is currently held by JSM's subsidiary, JSM Holdings (Cambodia).

The deal follows the conditional sale of Colonial Mansion I&II land and buildings, the Embassy land, and the Ounalom land announced on 7 April.

These, together with Siem Reap, represent all of JSM's assets in Cambodia.

The gross consideration payable to JSM for the disposal of Siem Reap is $2,000,000 in cash.

This includes an amount in respect of certain indirect taxes which may be payable.

If applicable, the indirect taxes are expected not to exceed $200,000.

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