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Family’s world shrinks daily

A woman carries water in February in Stung Treng province’s Srepok commune
A woman carries water in February in Stung Treng province’s Srepok commune, where the Lower Sesan II dam is planned. Pha Lina

Family’s world shrinks daily

Dozens of trucks, bulldozers and excavators have pushed Var Sokhoeurn to the edge of his remaining land at the Lower Sesan II dam site in Stung Treng province’s Srepok district.

When Post reporters visited Sokhoeurn’s family last month, much of his land, where he grew cassava and other crops, had already been dug up without his consent.

Speaking yesterday, Sokheurn, 56, said the diggers of Lower Sesan II Co Ltd had further encroached onto his property.

“Another three hectares of our farmland has been bulldozed. I could not stop it,” he said.

The machinery operators work from dawn until dark, locals said, breaking only for a quick lunch.

Ung Nem, a construction worker at the site, said yesterday that Sokheurn’s house and farmland was scheduled to be cleared in the coming days.

“The forest is logged, burned down, and cleared more and more,” Sokheurn added.

A logging concession for the dam and reservoir site was granted to the Royal Group, which also has a joint venture to operate the dam with China’s Hydrolancang International.

Following a suspension of the contract on October 16 due to allegations of illegal logging, which locals say was ignored on the ground, the Council of Ministers has still not heard back from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries about an investigation that was ordered into the claims.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that attempts to contact the Agriculture Ministry over the order to suspend the contract had failed.

“They’re too busy. I could not get a hold of them,” he said.

Thun Sarath, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, said the ministry had demarcated the logging concession, but any investigation would take time.

“The demarcation has finished. They [erected] the poles for the boundary,” he said. “I think the government [will] assess about the area and it should be investigated again. There should be a report [sent] to the prime minister. We have to do that later on.”

But Meach Mean, of local campaign group 3S Rivers Network, said the “reality happens on the ground; it’s different from the government [plans]. Illegal logging is still the same, and it’s still not clear who is monitoring the process.”

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