No verdict yet on Vietnam hydropower dams in world biosphere reserve

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Cat Tien National Park in the southern province of Dong Nai, where two hydropower dams are being planned

The Vietnamese government has yet to make a decision about two controversial hydropower dams planned to be built in a world biosphere reserve in Dong Nai Province, and is still studying the implications.

Speaking at a recent session of the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang said the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is considering the environment impact assessment of the Dong Nai 6 and Dong Nai 6A dams.

The assessment was drafted and submitted by the builder of the two dams, Duc Long Gia Lai Group.

Hoang made the announcement after two lawmakers urged the government to scrap the projects, saying they pose a great threat to the environment.

Only when the ministry concludes that the dams are "safe" would they be submitted to the government, Hoang said.

Since the projects have yet to be approved by any ministry or the government, they cannot be placed in front of the National Assembly, he said.

"After consideration, if agencies find that the projects have a big impact on the environment, I will propose to disallow them."

In April the parliamentary Committee for Science Technology and Environment and Dong Nai Province jointly assessed the projects' proposed locations, and the report would be submitted to the legislative body and the province's legislature, the People's Council, he said.

Earlier in the day Truong Van Vo, a delegate from Dong Nai, and his counterpart from neighboring Binh Duong Province urged the government to halt the projects.

They would take up a large part of the core of the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve, which has "great biological value" and is set to seek UNESCO world heritage status, Vo said.

Huynh Ngoc Dang from Binh Duong said both scientists and authorities in Dong Nai have decried the projects, so the government needs to reject them.

The dams first made headlines in 2011 when the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development sought the government's approval.

Since then they have faced widespread objections and criticisms from a number of government agencies, environmental groups, including the UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program, and even Dong Nai authorities.

Conservationists say the dams could destroy 137.5 hectares of forest land in the biosphere reserve, originally known as the Cat Tien National Park, and an additional 145 hectares of Nam Cat Tien forest.

Recognized as a world biosphere by the UNESCO in 2011 Cat Tien is home to 1,700 rare plants and more than 700 species of animals and birds, including many endangered ones. Eleven ethnic minority groups live around it.

It spreads over 966,563 hectares in five provinces, but 80 percent including the core is in Dong Nai.

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