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Senator blasts navigation plan
Kraisak sees threat to Thai sovereignty

Kultida Samabuddhi

Bangkok Post, Dec 3, 2002

Blasting rapids and shoals in the Mekong river to widen the navigation channel threatens national sovereignty, Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the senate foreign affairs committee warned yesterday.

``China would have absolute control over the river if Thailand and other downstream countries give the go-ahead to a commercial navigation project spearheaded by China,'' Mr Kraisak said.

``If China could direct the river, they will be able to direct our economic activities and national security as well.''

The project would also worsen an unsettled demarcation problem along the Thai-Lao border.

The government should suspend the project and set up a four-nation committee for a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA), he said.

``The government should take the same stand as the Lao government, which wants the project shelved until a new environmental impact study, which meets international standards, is held,'' Mr Kraisak said.

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 first phase of project, 11 reefs, including Khon Phi Luang in Thai waters, would be blasted. Another 51 reefs would be blasted in the second phase so vessels of up to 500-tonnes could cruise straight from a Chinese port in the southern province of Yunnan to Luang Prabang in Laos.

Mr Kraisak, senator Chermsak Pinthong, chairman of the senate public participation committee, and senators Tuenjai Deetes and Nirand Pitakwatchara yesterday visited villages in Chiang Rai's Chiang Khong district, which would be affected by the project.

Tun Inkaew, 70, a villager of Rim Khong sub-district, told senators he wanted the project scrapped, saying it could throw people downstream out of work. ``We are suffering the impact of China's upstream development projects, particularly hydropower dams, because the operators drain water or shut the sluice gates whenever they want. We're constantly having problems with sudden rises and falls in the tide.''

Thongsawan Promrach, a Chiang Khong resident, said that without the rapids and shoals, the flow of the river would be much stronger and could destroy the river banks.

The Harbour Department, the project developer, has apparently denied reports it would start blasting in Chiang Rai in two weeks.

``The agency has told me that Thailand will not resume clearing until next year, when border demarcation with Laos is expected to be resolved,'' he said.

Members of his committee would visit Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma to talk to local people about the possible adverse impact.

Chainarong Sretthachua, director of Southeast Asia River Network, urged Natural Resources and Environment Minister Praphat Panyachartrak to get the four downstream countries together for a new EIA


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