Villagers who will be displaced by the $800-million Lower Sesan II hydropower dam in northeastern Cambodia have called for the clear demarcation of the reservoir zone to prevent rampant illegal logging.
A significant proportion of the villagers from Stung Treng province’s Srekor commune have declined compensation from the dam builder, Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 Co, because they deemed the resettlement sites on offer unsuitable for farming.
The allocation of a contract to clear fell the reservoir zone has led to large-scale deforestation of protected timber, forest monitors allege.
Fort Kheun, a representative of the villagers, said the contract, awarded to a subsidiary of tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and a company owned by the brother of petroleum magnate Sok Kong, has been used as an excuse to log illegally.
“When they cut the trees, they say the company is clearing the reservoir basin.
But they are logging far beyond that area,” he said.
“I am one of many residents who treasures natural resources, so I am arguing that what is left should not be lost.”
Shortly after the logging concession was granted, allegations of abuse of the contract led the Council of Ministers to issue a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture ordering the logging be halted until an assessment of the area could be carried out.
The Agriculture Ministry did not respond to the letter, a cabinet spokesman said at the time, and sources yesterday could not confirm whether the demarcation of the reservoir had ever been completed.
“Even though we may be flooded or die, we will continue to live in our village,” Kheun said, adding that about 254 families in Srekor continued to resist resettlement.
A spokesman for Hydro Power Lower Sesan 2 did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, denied that any illegal logging outside of the permitted reservoir zone had occurred.
“The forest cannot be logged for the hydropower project other than clearing the basin . . . I support the protest against illegally logging outside the project area,” he said.
“But if they [villagers] think they are willing to die there, it is useless. The flood will come to the valley.”
He added that the aim of the project was to develop the region so that Cambodians could benefit.
Duong Pov, deputy provincial governor, said so far, 100 out of more than 800 families had accepted the full compensation package on offer.
“The development is in the national interest . . . and the dam is already about 30 per cent complete, so we cannot go back.”