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Friday, July 22, 2011

US Praises Laos For Suspending Mekong Dam Project

By The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a meeting of the Lower Mekong Initiative, with representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, July 22, 2011.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Laos as taking a "forward-leaning position" after the tiny, land-locked nation said it had no immediate plans to resume work on a dam across the Mekong River.

The project Laos was considering would be the first dam across the river as it meanders through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. China has dammed its upper reaches, but the 3,000-mile (4,900-kilometer) river otherwise runs free.

Opponents say construction in Laos could open the way for 10 more dams downstream. That would affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

"This is a serious issue for all the countries that share the Mekong River," Clinton said at a meeting of ministers from affected nations Friday.

"Because if any of you build a dam, all of you will feel the consequences in environmental degradation, challenges to food security, and impacts on communities."

Laos announced in May that it would defer building the $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam until an expert review was done. Hydropower is one of Laos' few major resources, and the country had hoped revenue from the dam would spur economic and social development.

It said Friday the suspension would continue, said Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, though he provided no details.

Laos has said the dam would not significantly impact the Mekong mainstream, but activists, scientists and officials in other countries say it would cause irreversible damage.

"I want to urge all parties to pause on any considerations to build new dams until we are able to do a better assessment of the likely consequences," Clinton said.
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Cambodian Prime Minister Criticizes VOA, Radio Free Asia

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday sharply criticized Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, saying their news reports are “very inferior.”

He accused the two broadcasters, both funded by the U.S. government under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, of distorting information, or containing “zero” information.

The prime minister made the comments in response to a question by a VOA Khmer Service journalist at a news conference in Cambodia. The question was about the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and Mr. Hun Sen said it was not among the topics to be covered by the news conference, which followed a meeting of his cabinet and was chiefly dominated by questions about Cambodia's border dispute with Thailand.

Mr. Hun Sen praised Radio France International and offered to hire Cambodian staff at VOA and RFA to work at Cambodian news stations.

VOA responded to the prime minister's comments by saying, “VOA journalists around the world, including those covering developments in Cambodia, adhere to the highest journalistic standards of accuracy and objectivity, standards mandated by U.S. law.”

The Cambodian government has opposed increasing the number of cases heard by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, a joint Cambodia and international court that is trying leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled the country in the late 1970s. More than a million people died under the Khmer Rouge – many of them starved or worked to death, and others executed.

One person has been convicted by the tribunal and four others are being prosecuted. The government says adding more cases could be harmful to national stability.

VOA provides news in more than 40 languages via shortwave and FM radio, television, satellite and the Internet. RFA provides news to Asia.

The Broadcasting Board of Governments also oversees Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
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