Villagers who will be displaced if the controversial Lower Sesan II dam is built called on the developers yesterday to postpone construction for five years, allowing time for a comprehensive resettlement scheme to be devised.
But a government official dismissed their request as “beyond the pale”, saying the project had been carefully thought through and would benefit the whole nation.
Srey Lybe, 56, one of eight community representatives from Stung Treng province speaking in Phnom Penh yesterday, said his people stand to lose not just their land, but their traditional culture.
“We are deeply concerned about this dam construction, and if it happens, our ancestors’ graves will be buried in the reservoir basin,” he said.
“Relocating us, it means that our ethnic tradition and identity will be scattered and damaged.”
Many of the nearly 5,000 people who may need to relocate because of the dam are ethnic minorities, including Prov, Phnong and Lao.
Lybe added that the villagers were making the request after assessing several proposed relocation sites, which they say are not yet suitable for cultivation.
The 400-megawatt dam is a joint venture between Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and Hydrolancang International, a subsidiary of state-owned China Huaneng Group, which formed Hydropower Lower Sesan II Co Ltd in November 2012. In February, the Post revealed that preliminary construction at the dam site began in November 2013, despite official denials.
Mark Hanna, chief financial officer at the Royal Group, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday. Representatives of Lower Sesan II Company could not be reached.
Despite the villagers’ protests and criticism from civil society groups, the dam looks to be on schedule to be completed in 2017.
Doung Pov, Stung Treng provincial administration director, said the villagers’ request would not be considered.
“The government does it for the benefit of all Cambodians, not for one person. Before approving the project, the government thought a lot. And we are not stupid enough to place the villagers in a location where they cannot farm.”
After appearing in the National Assembly for questioning last month, Suy Sem, Minister of Mines and Energy, said that the dam will be completed in late 2017.