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PM lashes out at environmental activists

Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at unnamed environmental activists yesterday at the groundbreaking of a 338-megawatt hydropower dam in Koh Kong province.

Speaking at the site of the Stung Russey Chrum Krom dam, which will span the eponymous stream in Koh Kong’s Mondul Seima district, Hun Sen said environmental impacts were a natural consequence of economic progress.

“Is there any development that happens without an impact on the environment and natural resources? Please give us a proper answer,” Hun Sen said. The premier said society inevitably exacts a toll on the environment, making a bizarre allusion to proposed taxes on carbon emissions in other countries.

“Only the wind that we breathe comes without a fee, but in other countries, they have to pay,” he said. “Even with farts, there is a tax, and though they do not say the tax comes from farts, it is implied when they talk about the value of biodiversity.”

The dam is set to be completed by 2014 and is being constructed by China’s Huadian Corporation at an estimated cost of US$495 million, one of the largest foreign investments in Cambodia to date. The government has granted Huadian a 38-year lease under a Build-Operate-Transfer agreement.

Um Serey Vuth, environmental team leader at local NGO Sawac, said his organisation conducted a preliminary environmental impact assessment on the project last year.

Because the area around the site is sparsely populated, he said the dam would have little impact on local livelihoods, though he noted that it would require some clearing of forest in the surrounding area.

In November, Cambodia and China inked a deal that will allow Huadian and another Chinese state-owned firm, China Guodian Corporation, to conduct feasibility studies for four proposed hydropower projects. The four include another dam in Koh Kong, two in Stung Treng province and the Sambor dam on the Mekong River in Kratie province.

A report commissioned by the Mekong River Commission earlier this year said more than one million fisheries-dependent Cambodians could be affected by dams on the Mekong, recommending a 10-year moratorium on construction pending further study. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SAM RITH

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