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Thai firm says work at controversial Laos dam on schedule

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 23 Jan 2013 05:03 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ch Karnchang say dam 10 percent completed

* Downstream Vietnam, Cambodia want construction halted

* Environmentalists say dam could cause food security crisis (Adds background on dam dispute)

BANGKOK, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Thailand's second-largest building contractor, Ch Karnchang Pcl (CK), said construction work at the controversial ${esc.dollar}3.5 billion Xayaburi dam in Laos was pushing ahead and it was on schedule to be completed in 2020.

Executive Vice-President Prasert Marittanaporn told reporters late on Tuesday that the hydropower dam on the Mekong River was about 10 percent completed.

Ch Karnchang has been criticised along with the Laotian government for racing ahead with construction of the dam in defiance of calls by Vietnam, Cambodia and activist groups for work to be suspended pending further studies into its environmental impact.

The company's estimate of 10 percent completion lends weight to activists' claims that Laos had never really halted work on the dam, despite repeated promises to its neighbours that it would wait until experts had carried out proper studies.

Construction of the Xayaburi dam officially started on Nov. 7 last year. Prior to that, Ch Karnchang had insisted it had only worked on areas around the dam site, not on the river itself.

Vietnam and Cambodia are along the lower stretches of the 4,000-km (2,500-mile) Mekong. Environmentalist say the dam could wipe out fish species and block the movement of fertile silt, leading to a food crisis that would affect tens of millions of people in the region.

Ch Karnchang is the main contractor on the project. Its 50 percent owned subsidiary, Xayaburi Power Co, has received a 29-year concession from the government of Laos to operate the dam's power plant.

Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos are bound by a treaty to hold inter-governmental consultations before building dams, although none has a veto.

Vietnam has for decades been Laos' most influential political ally, but it has failed to convince the authorities there to stop the dam. Activists said on Friday that Vietnam and Cambodia had repeated their calls for construction to be stopped during heated talks last week.

Separately, Ch Karnchang Vice-President Prasert said the company expected to book revenue of 25 to 28 billion baht (${esc.dollar}840-940 million) this year, up 20-30 percent from last year.

It has construction jobs in hand worth about 163 billion baht, which should contribute revenue for the next six or seven years, he added. (${esc.dollar}1 = 29.74 baht) (Reporting by Pisit Changplayngam; Writing by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Martin Petty and Michael Perry)

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