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Dam-affected villagers make case to UN envoy

Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur for human rights, attends a meeting with Ministry of Justice officials last week.
Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur for human rights, attends a meeting with Ministry of Justice officials last week. Heng Chivoan

Dam-affected villagers make case to UN envoy

The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia met with Stung Treng Governor Mom Saroen yesterday to discuss the plight of ethnic minorities in the province affected by the Lower Sesan 2 dam project.

Special rapporteur Rhona Smith is in Cambodia on a 10-day visit focusing on women’s and indigenous people’s rights, and on Sunday met with villagers in Sesan district’s Kbal Romea commune.

According to indigenous rights activist Ngach Samin, who was at Sunday’s meeting, the villagers revealed a litany of complaints, primarily focused on their scheduled resettlement to make way for the Lower Sesan 2 dam.

A 2010 environmental impact assessment found 5,000 families would be displaced by the project, and the first were asked to leave in 2011. Many have resisted relocation but have reluctantly come to accept compensation packages.

Samin, a project coordinator for the Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association, said that many of those at the meeting worried that relocation would lead to the deterioration of their Phnong culture, and said Smith had promised to pass on their concerns to Saroen yesterday.

However, shortly after yesterday’s meeting with Governor Saroen, his personal secretary Sen Puthy said Smith had praised the governor’s handling of the situation and highlighted Kbal Romea residents’ satisfaction with the resettlement plan.

“[She said] they agree, we have worked with them many times and explained the compensation and resettlement,” said Puthy. “The UN rapporteur appreciated the governor’s efforts to work to involve indigenous people in the process.”

When asked to comment on Samin’s account, Puthy asked that reporters call back later. Subsequent requests for comment were declined.

A spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia declined to comment on the conflicting accounts, saying the special rapporteur would present her findings on Thursday.

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