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Mekong Conservation Groups in Chiang Rai Want Written Proof that Blasting Project Scrapped

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CHIANG RAI – Members of the Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group and other environmentalists still remain uneasy despite Thailand’s Foreign Ministry assurance that the navigation channel improvement project had been scrapped.

Rak Chiang Khong and residents along the Mekong river are asking that the Thai Government make an official written public document declaring an official end to this controversial islet blasting project.

The controversial project was proposed by China to enlarge a navigation channel by blasting rocks, sand dunes and rapids in the part of the Mekong River from Chiang Rai’s Chiang Saen district to Luang Prabang.

On Saturday, Thailand’s Foreign Minister, Don Pramudwinai said the issue was discussed and agreed during a visit to Bangkok last month by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who accepted the concerns from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar about potential negative effects of the proposed blasting.

“The blasts aimed at paving the way for big vessels would affect people’s way of life and also fish in the river,” he said.

The Foreign Minister said, there are now better ways to transport products from China into the Mekong countries, they can unload at two upstream piers in Chiang Saen district, making the blasting work unnecessary. Highway R3A was another option.

However, Jirasak Inthayot, coordinator of the local environmentalist group Rak Chiang Khong and local people of Chiang Rai’s Chiang Khong district, told The Nation that he was not entirely relieved after hearing this news.

“This is the second time that Foreign Minister Don has made a similar promise, so we still doubt the cancellation of the Mekong River navigation channel improvement project.

We want credible proof about this announcement,” Jirasak said.

He urged the Foreign Ministry to make public the document on the scrapping of the project to prove the claim.

Thailand and Myanmar campaigns director with International Rivers Pianporn Deetes also called for the disclosure of reliable evidence to confirm the official stop to the plan to remove the vital Mekong River rapids.

“It is a real bliss, if it were true that the governments of Thailand and China have started to be concerned about the environment and the livelihood of local people along the lower reaches of the Mekong River [and end the river navigation channel improvement project], because the local people have been campaigning for more than 20 years against this project,” Pianporn said.

“If they truly mean to cancel this project, there should be evidence to confirm their sincerity on this matter.”

She pointed out that the rapids on Mekong River are very essential to sustain the healthy ecosystems of the river as well as the livelihood of the people along the river, as they are the habitats and feeding grounds for fish, which allow the local fishermen to earn the reliable income from fishing and guarantee the food security for the entire communities.

Early in 2017, the Thai government allowed efforts to improve the river channel on the part of the Mekong River between Chiang Rai and Laos’s Bokeo province.

The Cabinet approved Chinese company, CCCC Second Harbor, to undertake a survey along this 96-kilometre stretch of the Mekong River and conduct public hearings in three districts – Chiang Sean, Chiang Khong, and Vieng Kaen – along the Mekong River in Thailand.

By Pratch Rujivanarom