By Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Vientiane - Laos will allow a foreign delegation to inspect the Mekong River site of a US$3.5 billion dam project that has attracted widespread criticism, sources said Monday.
"We will be taken by bus from Luang Prabang to the Xayaburi site on Tuesday for an inspection," Mekong River Commission spokesman Surasak Glahan said.
"I think the tour is the result of concerns raised by some of our development partners at the MRC donor meeting last month."
Technicians from the multi-governmental organisation and representatives from donors including the Asian Development Bank,World Bank and embassies of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam will make the trip.
It will be the first time the Lao government has allowed an official visit to the project that has been criticized by environmentalists and neighbouring governments for its potential impact on downstream fisheries and the flow of sediments.
"We have nothing to hide," Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Viraphonh Viravong told the Vientiane Times.
on Friday, Laos Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith said after the talks in Phnom Penh that he had assured his Mekong counterparts the Xayaburi dam was on hold until its neighbours' environmental concerns were answered.
"The Laos government decided to postpone, we have to study more," he told reporters.
Environmentalists fear the proposed 1,260 megawatt dam, the first of 11 on the key waterway, will have disastrous environmental effects and harm the livelihoods of millions of people.
On December 8, ministers from the Mekong River Council - made up of water and environmental ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam - called for the project to be delayed to allow further environmental research.
Viraphonh said two consulting firms hired by Laos had proposed solutions regarding sediment flow and fish passage.
The dam would be the first hydroelectric project on the mainstream of the Lower Mekong. China has built four dams on the Upper Mekong.
Environmentalists said a free-flow dam with no reservoir would disrupt the natural movement of fish and sediment as the river passes through southern China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Earlier this month, the environmental group International Rivers said the contractor, Thailand's Ch Karnchang PCL, in January resettled more than 300 residents from Houay Souy village, which was in the dam's planned spillway.
The group also said the company started dredging in April, but Viraphonh said it was only collecting "rock samples."