Archive for April, 2012

April 29, 2012

Many Along Mekong River Concerned About Hydropower Expansion (another 12 planned will follow)

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Rick Valenzuela, VOA | Taikek, Laos

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A Thai company says it is going ahead with construction of the controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos. Some 12 planned hydropower dams on the Mekong are expected to bring in lucrative profits, but environmentalists warn the dams threaten the health of a river that sustains tens of millions of people.

“In the past, there were plenty of fish. Now, even if we use 10 fish traps, it’s hard to get fish.”

Ek Than’s family has lived in this remote Mekong village in northern Kratie, Cambodia, for more than three generations. As dams have popped up in China, as well as on upstream tributaries, he has noticed the difference. “In the past, there were plenty of fish. Now, even if we use 10 fish traps, it’s hard to get fish,” he said.

Than’s family lives north of one proposed hydropower dam, in Sambor district. It would be Cambodia’s first on the mainstream Mekong – and one of 12 planned along the 3,000-kilometer river. Most remain suspended over environmental concerns, but governments are eager to develop hydropower to boost their economies.

Farther upstream, construction continues on Laos’ first dam, in Xayaburi province. Laos electricity officer Viraponh Viravong says the project is crucial for the region, despite worries about its impact on the river. “It’s like nuclear,” said Viravong. “Some countries want to stop it, some want to go ahead with it. And this project, I guess is the same thing.”

Environmental analysts have been vocal opponents of Xayaburi and some other proposed dams.

“All of the evidence [it has] produced so far has stated that this dam should not be built, that to do so would completely damage and destroy the Mekong River’s fisheries,” noted Ame Trandem with the International Rivers group.

Back in Sambo province, Ek Than’s wife explains how the Mekong provides food for her family and her farm. River water nourishes their rice fields, sustaining the entire village.

The family also continues to live off the electrical grid, but they are less convinced about the benefits of harnessing the Mekong’s power. “I am worried.

I don’t where we would move if our village is flooded. It would be miserable,” said Nuth Hem, a local villager.

With the dams still a long way from completion, Ek Than’s family faces years of uncertainty about their future.

April 29, 2012

Tear gas used as 25,000 rally for Malaysia reforms

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The Associated Press

Date: Saturday Apr. 28, 2012 12:38 PM ET

A protester kicks away a tear gas canister fired by Malaysian police during a rally to demand for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, April 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Police unleashed tear gas and chemical-laced water Saturday at thousands of demonstrators who staged one of Malaysia’s largest street rallies in years, demanding fair rules for national elections expected soon.

Malaysian police said in a statement that 222 people were arrested. Lawyers said most were expected to be released soon after having their details recorded, but it was not immediately clear if they would be charged later with any offense.

Officials said three demonstrators and 20 police were injured.

At least 25,000 demonstrators swamped Malaysia’s largest city, hoping to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition – which has held power for nearly 55 years – to overhaul electoral policies before polls that could be held as early as June.

Authorities insist the elections will be free and fair, rejecting activists’ claims that the Election Commission is biased and that voter registration lists are tainted with fraudulent names.

Demonstrators wearing yellow T-shirts, waving banners and chanting slogans poured into downtown Kuala Lumpur, massing near a public square that police had sealed off with barbed wire and barricades.

“I’m here because I’m a Malaysian and I love my country,” said information technology manager Burrd Lim. “There’s no election that’s perfect, but I want one that’s fair enough.”

Authorities had refused to allow an opposition-backed pressure group that organized the rally to use Independence Square, a nationally renowned venue that hosts parades and patriotic celebrations.

The demonstration remained peaceful for several hours, prompting organizers to declare it a success and ask people to head home. But when a small group appeared to suddenly breach the police barriers, authorities began firing tear gas and water laced with stinging chemicals at the crowd.

Baton-wielding police backed by trucks mounted with water cannon sporadically fired tear gas at some demonstrators for at least an hour before much of the crowd was dispersed. People fled into streets and stores nearby, leaving shoes, bottles and other belongings scattered on the ground.

Police said one protester snatched a pistol from its personnel during the chaos, though the weapon was later recovered, and others destroyed public property.

Video footage by independent news website Malaysiakini showed angry demonstrators overturning a police car that allegedly hit two people.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said 20 policemen and three demonstrators received treatment for unspecified injuries. He insisted that police acted “with utmost restraint,” but opposition leaders and rights groups said the use of tear gas was unjustified.

“By launching a crackdown on peaceful protesters on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian government is once again showing its contempt for its people’s basic rights and freedoms,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia.

Federal police spokesman Rasdi Ramli estimated there were about 25,000 demonstrators, but many witnesses and some Malaysian news organizations said there were far more. Malaysiakini said there were 100,000, while The Sun newspaper estimated 80,000.

“We all want change today,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, one of the demonstration’s leaders.

The rally’s organizers have also sought longer election campaigning periods and changes to ensure citizens living abroad can cast ballots, as well as international observers for the polls and fairer access for all political parties to the government-linked media.

But despite the large turnout for Saturday’s demonstration, there was no indication that Prime Minister Najib’s National Front coalition would agree to major changes to satisfy the activists.

“If (elections) are not clean, not fair, show the evidence,” Najib was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama, on Saturday. “We do not want to be elected through cheating. We are a government chosen by the people. The majority of the people chose us because they know (we) are better” than the opposition.

After about 20,000 demonstrators staged a similar rally that was also dispersed by tear gas last July, authorities established a panel to study electoral regulations and agreed for voters to have their fingers stained with indelible ink while casting ballots to curb multiple voting.

But activists say those decisions fall short of what’s needed. Hundreds of Malaysians living abroad and rights activists in cities such as Hong Kong, Auckland and Perth also staged demonstrations Saturday in solidarity with those in Kuala Lumpur.

Speculation has intensified that Najib might dissolve Parliament next month and seek a new mandate in June, even though polls do not need to be held until mid-2013.

The National Front, which has governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, suffered its worst performance in 2008 elections, when it lost more than a third of Parliament’s seats amid public complaints about corruption and racial discrimination.

April 27, 2012

Damed Nations: A Hydroelectric Project in Laos May Fuel Strife in South East Asia

April 26, 2012

Faine Greenwood

Category: Rights

Construction has begun on a massive $3.8 billion dam in Laos that will profoundly effect Southeast Asia’s mighty Mekong river. The Xayaburi hydroelectric dam on the Mekong is being supported by Thailand, who have pledged to purchase a good 95% of the electricity the dam could potentially generate.

But the agreement between Thailand and Laos will cause massive changes in the lives of the nearly 60 million people who live near the ecologically rich Mekong – and it’s the poorest Southeast Asians who will be likely be hit the hardest. According to opponents, the dam will wreck havoc with important migratory fish stocks, would block sediment flows integral to agriculture, and could even cause more earthquakes, according to a Vietnamese survey. Further, the silty Mekong might render the dam relatively short lived and ineffective, if it is ultimately constructed.

The Mekong is central in one way or another to every nation in Southeast Asia, with millions depending on its utility as a major transportation network, fishery, and irrigation system. It’s also an incredibly rich ecosystem: the Mekong, which is currently only dammed at its Chinese headwaters, is considered to be one of the most intact riparian systems on the planet.

However, it was only a matter of time before a Southeast Asian nation decided it would be profitable to construct a major dam along its nearly 3,000 mile run, and Laos position at the river’s headwaters has forged its national ambition to become the region’s “battery.” As the Xayaburi dam project’s continuation has made clear, the Lao (in collaboration with the Thais) seem perfectly willing to realize this ambition at great cost to its fellow Mekong River Commission neighbors.

Priorities are key here, and Thai and Lao businessmen and policy-makers stand to gain a lot from the dam and lose relatively little. A relatively small portion of the Mekong runs through Thailand, and it’s potential as a power-source is a lot more important to the Thai leadership then its other potential uses. (The International Rivers NGO, for its part, claims Thailand doesn’t necessarily need the Xayaburi dam’s power to meet its future needs.) It’s indisputable that average Thai and Lao citizens dependent on the river for sustenance will be hurt by the construction of the Xayaburi, but it is also clear that the rights of villagers, farmers, and fisherpeople are rarely high on the agenda in Southeast Asian decision-making.

The rights of Laos and Thailand’s neighbors also aren’t high on the agenda, either. Although the December ruling by the four-nation Mekong River Commission to halt construction on the Xayaburi wasn’t legally binding, Thailand and Laos decision to flout the agreement could potentially place the future of the Commission in jeopardy – and has already drawn the ire of Cambodia, Vietnam, and many regular Thai and Lao citizens. 

Cambodia, the poorest nation in the region, probably has the most to lose from the Xayaburi dam. Khmer farmers and villagers depend on predictable Mekong flooding for the proper cultivation of their substinence farms, and they rely on healthy fish stocks for the bulk of the protein in their diet – predictable acts of nature that may soon be wiped out. Although Cambodia has not yet filed suit to stop the construction of the dam, authorities are considering filing a complaint to an international court if Laos isn’t responsive to talks.

Further, the Japanese have a stake in this particular international debate as well: in an bid to counter Chinese influence in Southeast Asia, they’ve agreed to fund extensive studies of the potential effects of the Xayaburi on the Mekong, and in an unrelated move, have pledged over $7 billion to the development of the countries that run through it. 

Considering the Mekong’s incredible import to the economies of Cambodia and Vietnam, there’s considerable potential for this debate over the Xayaburi dam to lead to some form of country-on-country strife. Further, the Xayaburi dam’s hasty construction is another disquieting sign that profit and the needs of Southeast Asia’s richest will take precedence over the most basic economic rights of the very poorest.

In a region that’s experiencing a long-awaited period of relative peace, the international community should be keeping an exceptionally close eye on the progress of the Xayaburi Dam.

April 27, 2012

Vietnamese firms channel $3.45bln into Laos

Vietnam Investment Review


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| Tuoitrenews | Apr 27, 2012 14:05 pm

Vietnamese firms have expanded their foothold in neighboring Laos with a total investment of $3.45 billion in 212 projects, mainly in hydropower, mining, agriculture and forestry.


Currently, Vietnam’s investments have been poured into 16 out of Laos’ 17 provinces, mainly in the greatest-potential and key economic sectors of the country, Dau Tu newspaper reported.

As of March 31, 2012, some outstanding projects included the Laos-Vietnam Joint Venture Bank; Hoang Anh Gia Lai Joint Stock Co’s rubber growing project; sugarcane and rubber projects of the Vietnam Rubber Industry Group; and Dak Lak Co’s rubber growing project.

In the finance, banking and insurance sectors, Vietnamese enterprises have nine projects worth nearly $82 million, accounting for 2.3 per cent of Vietnam’s total investment capital in Laos.

They include large financial groups such as Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV), Saigon Thuong Tin Commercial Joint Stock Bank (Sacombank), Military Commercial Joint Stock Bank (MB), and Vietnam Commercial Joint Stock Bank of Industry and Trade (VietinBank).

Other joint ventures are the Laos-Vietnam Insurance Co, Post Insurance Joint Stock Co, PetroVietnam Insurance Co and Lanexang Securities Public Co – a joint venture between the Sacombank Securities Joint Stock Company and the Lao Development Bank (LDB).

However, there are still many projects, around one-third of licensed ones, that are either pending or have been delayed.

Vietnam is now Laos’ second biggest foreign investor.

Vietnamese firms invested nearly $500 million in 15 licensed projects in Laos last year.

As of December 31, 2011, Vietnam committed a total of $10.8 billion of investment in 627 projects in 55 countries and territories around the world, according to the Foreign Investment Agency (FIA) under the Ministry of Planning and Investments.

Laos tops the list as the most appealing investment destination, followed by Cambodia with $2.1 billion and Venezuela with $1.8 billion.

Other countries attracting large-scale investment from Vietnam include Russia, Peru, Malaysia, and Mozambique, ranging from $345 to $776 million.

In 2011, Vietnam authorized 75 outbound investment projects in 26 countries and territories, and adjusted investment capital for 33 investment projects, said FIA.

New outbound investments in 2012 are expected to reach $2.12 billion, with large-scale projects in the energy and communication sectors in areas targeted by the government.

Tran Bac Ha, chair of the management board of BIDV, recently revealed that the bank has planned to hike chartered capital in the Laos-Vietnam Joint Venture Bank (LVB) from $35 million to $70 million in May, 2012.

At the same time, the bank would open new branch in Luong Prabang Province before August 2012.


Previously, BIDV and the Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao (BCEL) had cooperated to establish LVB in June, 1999 with initial chartered capital of $10 million.

April 26, 2012

Poor Laos gears up for first golf event


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Communist Laos will pass a sporting milestone next week when it hosts its first professional golf event, the $80,000 Luang Prabang Laos Open.

Apr 25 2012

Communist Laos will pass a sporting milestone next week when it hosts its first professional golf event, the $80,000 Luang Prabang Laos Open.

The small, poverty-stricken southeast Asian state will hold the ASEAN PGA Tour event in the world heritage city of Luang Prabang, known for its idyllic temples.

Centre-stage for the hosts will be the multi-talented Daliya Saidara, 22, Laos’s first professional golfer who has also represented his country in tennis and archery.

“I will feel more nervous than in a normal competition because all eyes will be on me,” Daliya said in comments released by organisers on Wednesday. “I have been practicing five days a week.

“I am excited and proud. I am hoping there will be more tour events in Laos.”

Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant, a three-time Asian order of merit winner, will headline the Laos Open.

The May 3-6 tournament also kicks off this year’s ASEAN PGA Tour featuring eight events around southeast Asia.


Related News:

Golf and the great Lao land grab

VIENTIANE – It is easy to be seduced by the peaceful rural scenes, punctuated by rice fields, vegetable patches and reed-filled wetlands. But behind the natural tapestry, tension and anger are brimming over in the local communities near the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge outside of the Lao capital.

The communal complaint: their long self-sustaining community will on government orders soon be converted into an 18-hole golf course, luxury hotel and top-end residential developments, and the compensation on offer to relocate is well below going market land prices.

As in many traditional societies, land in Laos is often held by tacit agreement rather than legal deeds. In some cases land was given by the state to those deemed worthy, like soldiers. Now that land is becoming a highly prized commodity, traditional land rights are being overturned by state power.

The people living on the 557 hectare proposed site are poor and live off the land. Some are retired soldiers, who like Khampheng have lived here since hostilities ended in the 1970s. A few are civil servants. “I can’t live on my government salary,” one said in passable English. “I have to grow food; my wife sells any surplus. The money they’re offering is not enough to buy land like this and there is none nearby that we can afford.”

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