• Kyodo

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Anxiety is mounting in Kenya over the fate of a Tokyo-funded power project after a meeting between the Japanese ambassador to Kenya and Kenyan officials failed to produce the Japanese funds needed to complete the project, officials said Tuesday.

Officials from both sides said the delay in the disbursement of a loan to finish the controversial Sondu-Miriu hydroelectric plant in western Kenya is causing Kenyans and other participants to worry.

“Due to the delay, local communities and other stakeholders are concerned about its fate,” Raphael A. Kapiyo, secretary of the project’s technical committee, told Kyodo News.

The project, located along the shores of Lake Victoria, initially provoked opposition due to displacement fears and environmental concerns.

Now that work has begun, however, concerns are focused on its completion, with many people having been forced to relocate and change their lives to make way for the plant.

The project also drew attention earlier this year in Japan amid allegations that scandal-tainted lawmaker Muneo Suzuki had attempted to secure official aid for the project in exchange for personal gains. Suzuki was arrested last week on a separate bribery charge.

A meeting Friday in Nairobi between Japanese Ambassador Makoto Asami and a delegation from the technical committee failed to resolve funding difficulties.

Japanese officials in Nairobi said the matter was being discussed by the Diet and they could not comment on status of the funding.

“We cannot say whether the money will come or not. The issue is a current topic of discussion in the Diet,” said Koji Oguma, a senior embassy official.

Japan has frozen more than half of a promised $150 million loan for the plant following pressure from environmental lobbyists. The project is aimed at adding 60 megawatts to Kenya’s 1,147-megawatt capacity.

Japan pledged some 6.9 billion yen toward the first phase of the project via a yen-denominated loan to Kenya in 1999, with a Japanese construction firm beginning work immediately.

The plant was slated to be completed by 2003, but work has been stalled since Japan suspended the second tranche of the loan due to concerns over Kenya’s ability to repay its debts and the project’s impact on the environment.

Officials working at the site said contractors have threatened to start laying off workers if Japan, which is the main sponsor, maintains its noncommittal attitude.

Some 60,000 people have been displaced from the area affected by the project.

Japan promised last year to continue providing official development assistance for the project after an inspection team found that government and nongovernmental organizations in Kenya were in favor of the project.

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