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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Standoff in Areng Valley continues

Ethnic minority villagers gather around a commune police station on Friday in Koh Kong province
Ethnic minority villagers gather around a commune police station on Friday in Koh Kong province, where three Chinese workers took refuge from anti-dam protesters pursuing them. ADHOC

Standoff in Areng Valley continues

Seven Chinese nationals were prevented from entering the Areng Valley in Koh Kong province yesterday as locals continued their standoff with the operator of the Stung Cheay Areng dam concession, villagers at the scene said.

Ven Vorn, a community leader among those blocking a road used to transport machinery to the site, said that seven employees of Sinohydro (Cambodia) United Ltd attempted to get to the valley disguised as tourists at about 5pm yesterday.

“There were seven Chinese men and one Cambodian driver. They claimed to be tourists who wanted to visit the Areng Valley, but we disagreed and they returned,” Vorn said. “We have never seen Chinese nationals visiting the Areng Valley before [for tourism]. We saw only tourists from Western countries.”

Sinohydro representatives visited the area on Thursday to prepare for the arrival of Chinese engineers and drilling equipment, according to a statement yesterday from local NGO Mother Nature Cambodia.

“We will stay here for a long time to stop the Chinese and machinery,” Vorn added.

Doeum Kundy, a Mother Nature representative at the blockade, confirmed Vorn’s account of yesterday’s events.

The protest, which started on Friday after the group of three Sinohydro employees visited the area on Thursday, has also diverted machinery headed for the valley, according to Neang Bora Tino, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

“Villagers saw an excavator and a few other items of machinery headed for Areng, but after the protest, the items were hidden in a nearby forest about 10 kilometres from the protest,” he said, adding that “much more machinery is being sent from Kampot to Koh Kong”.

Phay Thoun Phlam Kesorn, deputy provincial governor, said that he had requested the community allow Sinohydro to conduct its work in the valley and had filed a request from the villagers to the provincial governor to cancel the dam concession.

“I made a report about the request to the provincial governor already, but we have not got any decision in the case,” he said.

While Sinohydro seems intent on pushing forward with construction after taking over the project earlier this year from China Guodian, it is also preparing an environmental impact assessment (EIA), Toby Eastoe, landscape manager for Conservation International, said yesterday.

“The EIA consultants came and asked NGOs about the cost of relocating crocodiles. All they’re interested in are the costs,” he said. “In the last EIA for Areng, it said they should pay something like $2 million during construction for environmental protection, another $77,000 per year for normal environmental operations, and another block of money like $3 million into a trust fund to ensure ranger protection was funded.”

But, he added, none of the money set aside for environmental protection has gone to the forest rangers responsible for protecting the area along with local communities.

“No money has ever come to them directly or indirectly from the dam investment companies. The government rangers and communities are the ones protecting the catchments for these dams and no money has come to them. So where is this money?”

Eastoe said that existing agreements between his organisation and the local communities would be a “huge loss”.

“Conservation agreements with forest communities that we’ve set up have been working well since 2006 … communities are using the forests sustainably. If we move to a new area, we might be able to move the conservation agreements, but it’ll be a mess for a long time.

“The villages in the Areng inundation zone will likely be pushed down to Chi Phat and Thma Bang, which will put pressure on the communities and forests there. The influx of people will need new rice paddies and village areas so will need to clear state forest. In turn many migrants and land speculators will come in to grab land in the confusion.”

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