CHIANG RAI – Residents and activisits in Chiang Kong District are raising concerns over a plan being proposed to make the Mekong passable for 500-tonne cargo ships plying the route from China to Luang Prabang in Laos.
Locals and Mekong River activists claim that the adjustment to the river’s course would not only shift the boundary of Thailand and Laos, but destroy breeding grounds and habitat of wildlife, which will lead to total devastation of the Mekong River ecosystem.
Angry residents demanded that the Thai government end this project immediately to protect our country’s territory and preserve the precious Mekong River ecosystem.
Jirasak Intayot, coordinator of the Rak Chiang Khong Group, raised concerns over the plan, saying that if the government insists on proceeding with the river channel adjustment work, they will have to consider the law seriously or they will end up in ceding the country’s territory and violating the law.
The river channel improvement will definitely affect the border between Thailand and Laos, because the demolition of rapids would change the river flow and erode the riverbank, changing the border of Thailand and Laos, he said.
The Mekong River forms a part of the Thai-Lao border and changing the river’s course will also change the border, a violation of the MRC agreement and international regulations on international river management.
Niwat Roikaew, chairman of the Rak Chiang Khong Group, warned that the demolition of rapids in the Mekong would destroy the habitat and spawning grounds for various kinds of native creatures, including the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish.
Saying “Not only will this project destroy the rich biodiversity and ecosystem of the river, it will also severely hurt the people who depend on the river for food, destroying their traditional livelihoods.”
According to the Mekong River Commission, the plan is part of an agreement signd by China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand on Commercial Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River to improve the navigation route on the Mekong and make commercial river transportation convenient, safe and in accordance with the agreement among the country members.
The Rak Chiang Khong Group says Cambodia and Vietnam, who are also members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) haven’t signed the plan, which is a violation of the MRC agreement and international regulations on international river management.
The Cabinet has agreed in principle to approve the controversal project which has been pospned since 2003 due to the worries about the possibility of territory losses to improve the river channel.
Should the proposed project get the green light by the NLA Cabinet, Chiang Rai’s Marine Department would be assigned to oversee the study, working with other agencies to prevent an impact on the international boundary.
By Suchat Sritama and The Nation