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Thailand Backs Laos Move to Build Mekong Dam, Surapong Says

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Thailand backed Laos’s decision to push forward with a $3.7 billion dam on the mainstream Mekong River, dismissing claims from activist groups that the structure would damage the environment.

“The Lao government conducted studies that showed the development will not have environmental impacts as many people are concerned,” Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters today in Vientiane, where he is attending a summit of European and Asian leaders. “The project will not cause an impact on fisheries.”

The groundbreaking ceremony will take place tomorrow at the site of the dam, Viraphonh Viravong, deputy minister of energy and mining, said by phone yesterday. Shares of Bangkok-based Ch. Karnchang Pcl, which is constructing the dam, gained 0.5 percent as of the midday break, poised for the highest close in almost two years, after surging 5.8 percent yesterday.

The hydropower plant is the first among eight that Laos plans to build on the Mekong to expand Southeast Asia’s smallest economy by selling electricity to neighboring countries. Vietnam last year recommended a 10-year delay for all dam projects on the river, which also runs through Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia from its source in China’s Tibetan plateau.

“The Xayaburi Dam is the first of a cascade of devastating mainstream dams that will severely undermine the region’s development efforts,” Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for International Rivers, a Berkeley, California-based nonprofit group that aims to protect rivers and human rights, said in a statement today. “The food security and jobs of millions of people in the region are now on the line.”

Ch. Karnchang owns a 50 percent stake in Xayaburi, while PTT Pcl has a 25 percent stake.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Laos at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bangkok at ssuwannakij@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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