Desperate ethnic minority villagers in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley have blocked a road that was to be used to transport heavy machinery onto their lands to start construction of the highly controversial Stung Cheay Areng dam, according to villagers and officials.
Three Chinese employees of dam concessionaire Sinohydro Corp, who were brought in to conduct assessments for the huge company, had to be escorted out of the area by military police over the weekend after being surrounded by villagers at a Sinohydro office.
Ven Vorn, 35, an ethnic Chorng village representative from Thmor Baing district, said that about 150 villagers had worked in rotating shifts to ensure the machinery did not leave land rented by the company in preparation for construction of the dam.
“Thirty or 40 people took it in turns to block the access road, and if we see the company bringing the machinery, we will close [the road] immediately,” he said yesterday.
The villagers decided to block the road after noticing the three Sinohydro workers enter the site on Friday.
“When we saw the Chinese people, we were very worried. We are afraid of the dam construction,” Vorn said. “If the dam is constructed, about 10,000 hectares of our farms, houses and ancestral forest land will be inundated.”
Alex Gonzales-Davidson, founder of NGO Mother of Nature Cambodia, said the villagers were planning to take their protest to the capital, along with members of the Independent Monks Network and environmental activists.
“We plan to march [to Phnom Penh], but the important thing to do now is to stop the machinery from entering the Areng Valley,” he said.
“If [the machinery] is brought in, it will be hard to get [Sinohydro] out of the area. If villagers are determined to resist, the world will be surprised.”
Pich Siyun, Koh Kong provincial director of mines and energy, said that Sinohydro Corp was granted the contract because it had more experience in large-scale dam construction.
“The company just wants to study the hydroelectric dam, and they need to drill the land by using the machinery, since they cannot use their hands to drill the land,” Siyun said.
Last week, the Post reported that the local firm Sinohydro Corp partnered with to build the dam, Sinohydro (Cambodia) United Ltd, had two of Cambodia’s most connected brokers – CPP senator Lao Meng Khin and his wife Cheung Sopheap – on its board of governors.
Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Industry Mines and Energy, could not be reached for comment.
Phay Thoun Phlam Kesorn, deputy provincial governor, said that the authorities had asked Sinohydro to stay out of the valley until the situation calmed down.
“We are trying to calm down the villagers and explain to them about the project. But the project will not be dropped,” he said.