CHIANG RAI – The Governor of Chiang Rai Province and the Provincial Marine Office have held a joint press conference to deny rumors that the government has approved the demolition of rapids in the Mekong River to facilitate commercial navigation.
Governor Boonsong Techamaneesatit said that according to the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Interior, the government has yet to endorse any plan to enlarge the rapids of the Mekong River.
He insists the government has no plans to blast rapids and rocky outcrops in the Mekong River amid staunch resistance from local residents.
The Acting Director of the Provincial Marine Office, Suranat Sirichote, explained that the Cabinet had merely approved a survey of the river between the Golden Triangle in Chiang Saen district and Wiang Kaen district, reiterating that there was no islet demolition.
China began the first phase of the project, blasting about eleven reefs and islands in the upper Mekong River to allow navigation for ships of at least 100 tonnes.
For the second phase, which aims to dredge the river and blast another 51 rocky outcrops, a Chinese concessionaire is surveying nine islands in Chiang Saen and Chiang Khong districts of Chiang Rai.
Results of the study will be submitted to the joint committee representing China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Mr. Suranat explained that any changes to the Mekong River must first be studied and approved by the Cabinet, ensuring that no activity alters the border between Thailand and Laos.
There is no knowing if the islands will be blasted as the survey has not even started, he added.
The Mekong River development project has sparked outcry among civil groups in Chiang Khong district. Activists and villagers fear that removing the islets would increase river speed, leading to the depletion of fish stocks that are vital to local livelihoods.
Thailand’s Development Research Institute (TDRI) has warned the country stands to lose more than it gains if it joins China in blowing up rapids in the Mekong River.
Activists have planned to stage a campaign against the project on February 5th.