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Defiant Laos pushes Mekong River dam

BANGKOK — Ignoring criticism that a huge hydroelectric dam could irreparably damage the ecology of the Mekong River, the government of Laos said Tuesday that it was pushing ahead with the multibillion-dollar project, the first dam to be built on the lower portion of the iconic river.

“I would say I’m 100 percent sure it’s going ahead,’’ Daovong Phonekeo, deputy director general of the Laotian Department of Electricity, said by telephone Tuesday.

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Laotian government officials and executives of a Thai construction company that is to build the dam are to officially inaugurate the project at a ceremony Wednesday in Xayaburi, the remote province in northwestern Laos where the dam is to be situated.

The electricity from the project will be sold to Thailand and will provide billions of dollars of revenue to Laos, one of the poorest countries in Asia. But the project has been criticized by scientists who are concerned that the dam may disturb spawning patterns and lead to the extinction of many species of fish that have for centuries been the main source of protein for millions of people along the river’s banks.

The US State Department issued a statement Monday questioning the rush to complete the dam. “The extent and severity of impacts from the Xayaburi dam on an ecosystem that provides food security and livelihoods for millions are still unknown,’’ it said.

The Mekong River passes through parts of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam before it empties into the South China Sea.

Although the dam is being constructed on a part of the Mekong River that is entirely inside Laos, riparian countries of the lower Mekong signed an agreement in 1995 to consult with one another before proceeding with large projects on the river.

Laos appears to have steamrollered through that process despite objections raised at a meeting last December, when representatives from Vietnam and Cambodia called for further studies.

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