After being evicted from their homes as water levels rose, 100 ethnic Phnong villagers returned yesterday to their native Kbal Romeas commune – now in the reservoir of the Lower Sesan II Dam – to sacrifice a buffalo in an attempt to reassure their purportedly angry ancestors after 10 of the villagers fell sick.
The homeless villagers raised nearly $10,000 to buy the buffalo and other sacrificial animals. The families were offered compensation to leave their homes ahead of the opening of the dam, but many refused, citing in part an unwillingness to leave behind traditonal burial grounds.
As water levels increased, even the holdouts were forced to relocate to makeshift homes on nearby land. One former resident, Koeng Ban, said his ancestors were confused and angry after their graves were abandoned.
“We held the ceremony in the middle of the village in water to inform the spirits . . . not to abuse us,” she said. Veoun Sambath, Kbal Romeas commune chief, who now lives at a supplied resettlement site, said the true cause of the illness was likely linked to their unhealthy living conditions.
“They do not think about their living conditions. It is not because of the spirits,” he said, adding the villagers who agreed to relocate have not fallen sick. Sambath suspected that some of the villagers may have malaria. A member of the ruling CPP, he went on to accuse the villagers of supporting the Cambodia National Rescue Party and blamed NGOs for manipulating them.
However, Hou Sam Ol, Stung Treng provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that NGOs had played an important role in acting as an intermediary in the dispute. “They did not move out because the compensation was not appropriate,” Sam Ol said.