Vietnam steps up relocation for dam reservoir

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam has started relocating 14,000 more people to build the country’s largest hydro-electric dam reservoir in a northwestern mountain region near Laos, officials said Tuesday.

The group, many of them from the Hmong and Thai ethnic minorities, are the second large group to be resettled for the 2.6-billion-dollar dam project, set to start operating by 2015, after about 25,000 people were earlier moved.

Pham Thi Dao, a provincial official in charge of the relocation programme, said a ceremony was held in Son La province Monday to mark the start of the new resettlement phase, and that in total more than 90,000 people would be moved.

Construction for the dam project started in December 2005, and the reservoir area is set to be flooded in 2010. A 215-metre (700-foot) dam wall will create a reservoir covering 18,000 hectares (45,000 acres), officials say.

Critics have said the scheme will force tens of thousands of mostly poor people to change their lifestyles from rice growing along river banks to carving out a new living in villages on less fertile hillsides.

Environmental group the International Rivers Network said people living in two pilot resettlement sites were having trouble adjusting.

“People were moved from the river valleys to higher ground where there is no land for rice farming and where they have to learn new methods for growing tea, coffee or raising dairy cows,” the group said in a statement. “The change in farming practices has proven extremely difficult for them to adjust to.”

Dao, the resettlement official, said “our target for the end of 2008 and early 2009 is to resettle a total of more than 90,000 people for the project.”

She told AFP that the relocation had affected the lives and agricultural practices of some people, many from ethnic minorities, but said that most of them were gradually adapting to their new lives.

“Some of them have gone back, for farming and cattle raising, to the areas of their former houses, but they are a minority,” she said. “In the long run, I see no problems for this large resettlement scheme.”

The dam is projected to generate 2,400 megawatts of power. Vietnam’s energy needs are projected to grow 15 percent a year, or about twice the pace of gross domestic product growth, the Asian Development Bank has estimated.


U.S. ambassador to Vietnam calls human rights a priority,1,3602561.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

By My-Thuan Tran, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 16, 2007

Speaking in the heart of the nation’s largest Vietnamese American community, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Vietnam warmed up the crowd by saying that he would push for human rights as he took a critical look at Vietnam’s Communist regime.

But, he warned, substantial changes in the country would not happen overnight.

Michael Michalak’s message of patience to 300 people in a town hall meeting in Westminster on Sunday runs contrary to the sentiment of some Vietnamese Americans who want the U.S. government to increase pressure on the Vietnamese government before engaging in more trade.

Michalak said his priorities — boosting Vietnam’s economy by encouraging foreign investment and strengthening the education system — would be the key to human rights and political reform in Vietnam.

“There are some things in an open society that are needed to attract large amounts of investment in Vietnam,” Michalak said. “The Vietnamese government will be forced to be more transparent.”

The ambassador said he believed that the Vietnamese government had been more open to dialogue in recent years, but that more could be done on increasing labor rights and religious freedom.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), who organized the meeting at Coastline Community College’s Le-Jao Center, said human rights abuses in Vietnam had not changed since the country joined the World Trade Organization this year.

Many in the crowd asked Michalak to focus on political reform and human rights abuses while he pushed for economic development. Some urged him to help free political dissidents detained in Vietnam, such as religious leader Father Nguyen Van Ly and lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who was arrested in Vietnam after finishing a National Endowment for Democracy fellowship in Washington, D.C. Both were found guilty of being national security threats.

Others agreed with Michalak’s strategy of increasing trade to bring higher quality of life to Vietnam.

“Human rights will follow when people have a better life, and that comes from a better economy,” said Peter Duong, president of Westminster-based Vietnamese Federation of Labor in Overseas.

Michalak, who was appointed in August, told the audience that overseas Vietnamese will play an important role in building Vietnam.

“Working with the Vietnamese American community will be an important source of ideas,” he said.