“People don’t dare speak out”

“This is the biggest catchment for fresh water fish in the world and that demands a strategy for fish,” one source said, adding that Lao staff were aware of the issues but were silenced by fears of upsetting the government.

Sources said the disappearance of agriculturalist Sombath Somphone, an advocate of rural reform and farming practices, almost three years ago had a chilling effect on bureaucrats who must toe the government line on dam construction.

“They are nasty and people don’t dare speak out,” an MRC source said.

The Laos government has fended off a barrage of international criticism over Sombath – who was last seen on CCTV being bundled into a police car – and for having little if any regard for its legal obligations to human rights.

During a recent trip to Laos, one senior bureaucrat told this journalist that anyone publicly opposed to the government’s massive infrastructure plans – aimed at developing hydropower and turning Laos into a net exporter of electricity – “can simply disappear like Sombath Somphone.”

From “Why the Mekong River Commission May Be In Peril,” in The Diplomat, 10 October 2015

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