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Community prays to river to halt dam work

Hundreds of villagers who will be affected by the currently under-construction Lower Sesan II hydropower dam yesterday held a blessing ceremony in Stung Treng province to call on the spirit of the river to intervene and stop the project.

Nen Sokith, 29, a representative of the Srepok River community, said about 400 villagers from Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri provinces had come together to hold the ceremony, which they hoped would curse the construction process.

“The main purpose for doing this ceremony is to put a stop to the Lower Sesan II dam; and we also asked our spirit to create obstacles in the way of the project so it won’t work anymore,” she said.

Construction of the $816-million Lower Sesan II dam has been underway for over a year, after the joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group, China’s Hydrolancang International and Vietnam’s EVN International was approved in 2012.

The governments of Finland, the US, Australia and Japan, among others, have publicly called for the dam to be submitted to the Mekong River Commission’s prior consultation process, but Cambodia has yet to respond to the requests.

One study in 2012 estimated the project would lead to an almost 10 per cent drop in fish stocks, while NGOs and campaigners have highlighted the environmental destruction that will be wrought by the clearance of the dam’s 36,000-hectare reservoir.

Sokith said that while the community does not solely rely on prayer to resist the dam, they believe the ceremonies have had an impact. Some of the workers, she said, have fallen ill, slowing construction.

“We made effigies of the dam workers and government officials in order to curse them,” she said. “We are not afraid of those officials because they have never considered our suffering.”

“From morning to early evening, we prayed to the spirit of the river,” she added.

Seak Mekong, Srekor commune chief, said that it was the right of the villagers to hold the ceremony.

“We did not stop their ceremony, but we told them not to say or do anything that would affect others’ political or human rights,” he said.

“The dam will be finished next year and the villagers will all be affected by 2017, because the dam is close to completion.”

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