Authorities in Stung Treng province are preventing outsiders, including NGOs, from accessing resettlement sites for villagers displaced by the Lower Sesan II dam unless they apply for and are granted permission beforehand.
In all, 743 families from Srekor and Kbal Romeas villages have moved to the newly built settlements because of flooding in the reservoir area of the dam, which was tested last month and is scheduled to go online in September.
Srekor Commune Chief Siek Mekong yesterday said outsiders, including NGOs and journalists, must ask permission from the provincial authorities to access a paved road linking National Road 78 to the resettlement site for Srekor village, which is about 37 kilometres away and past the Lower Sesan II dam. “If any outsiders want to pass the road, they need to ask permission from the provincial authorities. It is a new restriction,” said Mekong.
Travellers could previously access Srekor or Kbal Romeas villages via the Srepok Bridge, but since it was dismantled last month because of impending floods they have been using an old national road to access the reservoir area and the resettlement sites.
When police blocked that route, people entering the area from outside began using the paved road to the resettlement sites, which now also has checkpoints staffed with Military Police officials, according to Mekong. Outsiders who wish to visit their relatives also need to get permission from the authorities, he said.
One resident of the resettlement site for Srekor village, Heng Sophea, 39, claimed that staff from NGO International Justice Mission (IJM) attempted to give her a ride to one of the resettlement sites after receiving treatment for severe joint pain, but their car was stopped by three men in civilian clothes.
“We asked them to let the NGO to take me in, but they strongly disagreed even though the commune chief intervened,” Sophea said.
She finally took a local taxi to the resettlement site. An IJM representative declined to comment.
“We are not happy about it. NGOs could not access to give any education, training, or give any aid to the villagers at new site,” he said.
Stung Treng Provincial Hall spokesman Men Kong said the Hydro Power Lower Sesan II Company asked for military policemen to safeguard the area for security reasons, such as preventing intruders from stealing company property.
He said “legitimate” NGOs would be allowed to access the resettlement sites “if they have a clear and good reason”.