Police yesterday prevented representatives of the United Nations human rights office from accessing two Stung Treng villages threatened by flooding from the Lower Sesan II Dam.
Since Sunday, Military Police and provincial police officials have been stopping outsiders from entering Sesan district’s Srekor and Kbal Romea villages as 200 people – mostly ethnic minorities from all over Cambodia – continued to gather in defiance of the blockade for a series of events, including a press conference, traditional prayers and the construction of floating homes for locals.
With their predominantly Lao and Phnong populations, the villages have become emblematic of the struggle to secure ethnic minority rights in the face of economic development.
Yesterday morning, representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights were among the latest to encounter the police blockade. “This morning a monitoring team from the UN Human Rights Office was not authorized to access to Srekor and Kbal Romea villages in Stung Treng for security reasons,” wrote UN Human Rights Office in Asia spokesman Jeremy Laurence in an email.
“The local police informed them and all others who wanted to access the area that it was too dangerous considering the accelerated increase in the water level due to the ongoing heavy rains combined with the closed dam gates.”
The provincial government has said that ensuring security is the blockade’s only purpose.
“If an accident happens, who is going to take the responsibility?” asked Stung Treng provincial Deputy Governor Duong Pov.
Pov went on to say he didn’t know the UN representatives had been denied passage and said that they should have notified the provincial court of their intentions so that the authorities could escort them.
Kbal Romea community representative Dam Samnang said blocking UN officials fits into a larger pattern of “restriction of the people’s rights of travel and freedom of assembly”.
Provincial authorities issued a warning on Monday that Srekor village would flood on Friday and advised the 120 families still living in the village to leave.
Nonetheless, Srekor representative Fut Khoeun said he was unconcerned.
“We are used to floods,” Khoeun said. “[Presently] the water just reaches the riverbank. If the village is flooded, the water will not climb higher than the rooftops and we do not need to move out.”