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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Don’t talk about Areng’

Chinese engineers prepare to conduct a feasibility study in 2012 for the proposed Areng Valley dam
Chinese engineers prepare to conduct a feasibility study in 2012 for the proposed Areng Valley dam. Hun Sen said the dam will not be constructed in the fifth mandate. INTERNATIONAL RIVERS

‘Don’t talk about Areng’

Prime Minister Hun Sen for the first time yesterday publicly announced that construction of the Areng Valley dam would not go ahead in this mandate, issuing the promise in a speech that sought to curb the outpouring of criticism over the abrupt deportation of anti-dam activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson.

The premier yesterday said that the valley – home to one of the Kingdom’s most unspoiled forests, and a hotbed of biodiversity – should be left to younger generations.

However, he was also steadfast in his support for the continuation of controversial assessments of the dam site, admonishing critics to drop the matter; then, in the same breath, he expressed doubt that the project should ever move forward.

“I would like to say do not talk about the Areng Valley anymore,” he said. “Study it more clearly; and I think even if we study it clearly until 2018, we cannot develop it. And in my opinion, I want to leave it for the next generation.”

While opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced in October he had received the prime minister’s word the dam would not move ahead this mandate, yesterday’s announcement was the first from Hun Sen himself.

Hun Sen also took the opportunity yesterday to defend his decision to deport Gonzalez-Davidson, saying the deportation was a matter of law, not an attempt to score a political victory.

He accused the Spaniard of inciting Cambodians to block a group intent on assessing the environmental impact of the dam, and called on Cambodians to redirect their love of the Khmer-speaking activist – who has achieved a measure of celebrity for his opposition to the dam – towards the Areng itself.

“We do not want to win or to lose, but the law is the law, the state is the state, sovereignty is sovereignty,” he said, adding that input from Western-based activists was not particularly welcome. “They logged all the timber in Europe for development and then they advise Asia? We accept recommendations, but not too extreme.”

In an apparent joke, the premier also threatened to deploy heavy weapons to the area if activists there attempted to form an “autonomous zone”.

“If you want to make an autonomous zone [in Areng], please come, and we will put BM21 [multiple-rocket launcher vehicles] in that area, but I don’t accuse them seriously like that,” Hun Sen said.

The joke, however, had ominous undertones, given that claims of “autonomous zones” have precipitated tragedy in the past. In 2012, land disputants in Kratie province’s Pro Ma village were accused of a “secessionist” plot, and evicted from their homes in a swift and violent military operation that saw a teenage girl shot to death by security forces.

Despite the seeming ambivalence towards the Areng dam in yesterday’s speech, in a letter sent to National Assembly President Heng Samrin last month, Hun Sen stressed the importance of weighing the benefits of development against conservation, even suggesting that “hydropower would become a participant to help preserve and maintain the remaining forest”.

Gonzalez-Davidson, speaking from an undisclosed location yesterday, said that the premier’s speech presented something of a mixed bag.

“Hun Sen’s statement is the first time he has verbally mentioned Areng dam himself, which might open up new possibilities,” he told the Post. “It is possible that he is trying to give a stick (my deportation) to civil society/opposition party, and a carrot (the alleged cancellation of the Areng dam) to the Cambodian people. The problem is that, as we have seen in Cambodia time and again in the last few years, ‘research’ and feasibility studies are just an excuse for district/provincial elements of the ‘government’ to make money out of mining, logging, et cetera.”

Sin Samnang, another member of Mother Nature, said yesterday that the residents of the Areng Valley also held mixed feelings about the address, welcoming the premier’s promise to halt construction, while at the same time expressing concern over continued studies, and the return of representatives of the dam’s Chinese builder, Sinohydro.

Independent analyst Ou Virak, however, said that yesterday’s speech could represent a genuine about-face on the part of the premier, an attempt to win populist points after being chastened by an election that saw his party – campaigning exclusively on his popularity – endure huge losses.

“I think he could be changing course. He’s been saying some things before the deportation of Alex as well,” Virak said. “I don’t know, but I strangely believe him this time.”




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Bob's picture

How come Hun Sen is allow to say and harassing his people and willing to use BM21 rocket against his citizen? Who is he think he is? Immortal? Only a dictator can say that in public. His comment will only bring backfire to his gangster ring... Again and again only a few of these Elites that took control of the whole country and selling the country to the devil and give no benefit to the rest of Cambodian.
- First of all if ever this power plan will be developed it should be not be a private property of one individual but it should be a state own.... The land is belong to Cambodian people and not to those in power.
- Secondly, there are repeated in patterns of using intimidation, harassment and control which only these few people are controlling the whole country as it was during Khmer Rouge regime...After they have a total control over its population than they start to eliminate one by one who is opposed to their wills... Luckily we have people like Alex who is helping and educating Khmer people to defend their rights otherwise these criminal gangster people will took control over them like domestic animal.

Thank You Alex and even you cannot stay or on site involvement you still can remotely continue your activities with video conference...etc. You have done so much for the poor Cambodian and I approved your hard work.

Bob's picture

Why UN continue to spend hundred of millions US dollar in KR court which occurred 30 years ago and completely ignore the Cambodia urgently social issues like land eviction, corrupted legal system, no one can address the current problem?
To me, the current social problem is more urgent to address first before doing KR. What do you think people? Is it logical? If the current court system is un-trustful how good would be to continue KR...?

savath.pou's picture

My open letter to
Samdech Akkak Moha Sena Padey Decho Hun Sen
Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia

Sydney, 25th February 2015.
Dear Samdech Prime Minister,
You have made a Spanish environment activist under the name of Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson very famous, but at the same time very hurt, by giving orders to your immigration officers to forcefully expel him from Cambodia on the evening of Monday 23rd February 2015. You may argue that immigration officers in any country in the world like France, the UK, the USA, China, Russia, South Africa or Argentina would do the same when a foreign visitor has his/her visa expired and resisted leaving the host country. Samdech, you are right. However, Mr. Alex Gonzales-Davidson is no ordinary visitor. He’s the co-founder of the Mother Nature NGO licensed by your Ministry of Interior to operate in Cambodia 10 years already during which period he has captured the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of the Khmer people living here in Cambodia and around the world simply because he’s done the right thing by voicing concerns about the fast disappearance of Cambodia’s forests while not many Cambodians dare to alarm you on this particular environmental issue.
Dear Samdech Prime Minister,
You have been leaving your footprints on every single square inch of the whole country of Cambodia since you were a 17 and a half year old boy when you voluntarily answered to then Prince Norodom Sihanouk solemn 1970 appeal to join His revolutionary armed forces in the jungle in order to push back the US-bankrolled Lon Nol/Sirik Matak regime. You know full well how dense Cambodia’s forest was at that time and it remained so until you became Second Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Cambodia as a result of the very controversial UNTAC-supervised general elections in May 1993. But now, Cambodia’s forests are almost gone in the space of 22 years and they are gone on your watch as the Captain of Neavea Kampuchea in Khmer, and Cambodia Ship in English.
Dear Samdech Prime Minister,
You have joined with the whole Khmer nation to proudly celebrate the 30th anniversary of your prime-ministership, one of the longest in the world, on exactly the 2015 Valentine’s Day. It was a pleasant coincidence because, on that day of February 14th, the whole Christian world remembers, strengthens and celebrates LOVE. To everybody’s surprise though, NINE days later, you gave orders to your immigration officers to expel from Cambodia a young foreigner who has reportedly a Cambodian heart and whose only crime is to LOVE our Cambodian forests. Samdech, does this particular episode make sense at all? Frankly speaking, I don’t think it does.
Dear Samdech Prime Minister,
For the sake of your personal honor as one of the world’s longest Prime Minister and the honor of the entire Khmer nation universally known as the most peace loving race on earth, I beg you to give orders to your immigration officers to grant Mr. Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson a new visa soon after he expresses his sincere interests to return and to re-apply.
Please accept, Samdech Prime Minister, the assurance of my most profound respect and my highest consideration.
Savath Pou,
Senator Expelled.
Email address:

konglong's picture

As you can read in the printed issue of PPpost today Mr Hun Sen expressed that he is bored about the Areng Valley issue and would not hesitate to put rocket launcher in position against settlers and environmental activists and he added the typically Cambodian phrase about uncomfortable things : Don’t talk about it.

Maybe Your are interested to hear my girl friends opinion of the Areng Valley as a representative opinion of the average Cambodian public. She thinks that Mr Gonzalez-Davidson has no right to interfere with domestic Cambodian problems and supports Mr Hun Sens action to expel him from Cambodia. Furthermore she is blaming the Vietnamese for this conflict. Litarelly : If they would be Vietnamese the settlers in the Areng Valley Hun Sen would not try to evict them.

After all this years living in Cambodia this mixture of nationalism and carelessness led me to the conclusion: Let the Khmer people care about their own problems.

I support Mr Gonzalez-Davidsons ideas and as a matter of fact the produced hydro electricity is going to China it not for the local consumption they continue to use petrol fueled generators.