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Villagers come together in attempt to stop forest clearing by Royal Group machinery in March in Stung Treng province. Photo supplied

Complaint filed over villagers’ dam protest

With several villages downstream from the Lower Sesan II dam expecting to be inundated this rainy season, Stung Treng provincial authorities filed a complaint yesterday against seven ethnic Lao villagers who participated in a protest in March to block the clearing of a forest where the reservoir will be, though the exact source of the suit was unclear yesterday.

The seven protesters from Sre Kor village are among 93 ethnic Lao families refusing to abandon their homes in the face of flooding. The $816 million 400-megawatt project, which is a joint venture between China’s Hyrdrolancang International and Cambodia’s Royal Group, is expected to go online by the end of this year.

A total of 100 villagers participated in the protest, during which they blocked bulldozers from clearing land that they believe has spiritual properties. The villagers, said Sre Kor Commune Chief Siek Mekong, conducted their demonstration in the presence of a working group that included provincial police and provincial military police.

“One hundred protested, but they sued only the seven activists who are nature and environmental protection volunteers,” Mekong said, adding that the villagers called for just part of the forested area, not the entire 2,250 hectares of forested land, to be cleared and flooded.

Mekong argued the lawsuit seeks to pressure defiant villagers into leaving their homes. Although the seven activists were summonsed to court in April for questioning and could face jail time, they have not shown up to court.

One of the seven, Fut Khoeun, 38, said he believes the complaint against he and his fellow villagers is a “threat” to local people who continue protesting the project and refuse to leave.

Among residents of four villages affected by the project, as of March, all but 13 percent had accepted relocation. According to Stung Treng Provincial Hall spokesman Men Kong, three more families accepted compensation this week.

“We live here voluntarily. If it is flooded, we have boats,” Khoeun said. “We are here to solve the problem together. Please do not abuse us.”Provincial Court Prosecutor Chreng Khmao said he will examine the case to determine what further actions the court should take.

Um Bun Reth, a representative of Royal Group, said the company had no involvement in filing the complaint. “The villagers came and we reported [them to the] local authority,” he said.

Hou Sam Ol, the Stung Treng provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the authorities have no basis for suing the villagers, as their actions aimed to defend their community from the company’s actions.

“The villagers did not know those are public officials there,” he said, referring to the presence of the working group. Sam Ol added that the complaint serves to intimidate the community into relocating.

Provincial spokesman Kong denied these allegations, saying the lawsuit targeted individuals “who persuaded [other villagers] and caused the problem [that] hindered the provincial authority working group, which serves the people’s interests”, he said. “Authorities went there to keep order in the process of making [the] reservoir, but were stopped.”

Kong also declined to tell The Post which authorities within the provincial government were responsible for the lawsuit.

Provincial Military Police Commander Oeung Vandy referred questions to National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy, who could not be reached.

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