While hundreds of Cambodians were granted permission to protest against Laos’s controversial Don Sahong dam over the weekend, authorities in Kampong Cham weren’t very accommodating, activists and
officials said yesterday.
Four hundred activists made their way along the Mekong River by longboat through Kratie province’s Sambor district and Stung Treng province’s Thala Barivat district near the Cambodian-Lao border on Saturday and Sunday in protest of the planned multimillion-dollar dam.
But while they were allowed to pass peacefully through those provinces, protesters were denied entry in Kampong Cham.
“We just wanted to collect the thumbprints from people who are concerned about the planned dam. But we were very disappointed when we were not allowed [into Kampong Cham],” Yok Senglong, one of the protest organisers, said.
Senglong said an official request for permission to march in the town was sent to Kampong Cham Provincial Hall on March 26.
But even though the request had already met the approval of the national government, Kampong Cham authorities responded a few days later, telling demonstrators to stay away.
“They should [have] given us a chance to explain about this [protest],” Senglong said. “It may be that the authorities do not understand our goal.”
Vong Kosal, a legal adviser with NGO Forum, one of the organisers of the protest, said Kampong Cham’s refusal went against “democracy”.
“We do not use violence .… [This was a] very peaceful way of showing the concerns and suggestions of people who are the country,” he said.
Khorn Bros, Kampong Cham Provincial Hall administrative chief, said the authorities received but chose not to accept the request because it related to an issue affecting a foreign government.
“It is a dam in another country, and [this] province is not involved in it,” he said.
Separately, in Koh Kong province yesterday, villagers from the Areng Valley took part in a motorbike rally alongside monks and activists to protest the planned construction of the controversial Stung Cheay Areng dam.
Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, founder of local NGO Mother Nature Cambodia, said that between 120 and 140 people turned out on about 60 motorbikes for the rally, handing out leaflets and petitions to passersby and the authorities.
“There have been no problems … it’s thrown them [the authorities] off guard, and they don’t know how to deal with it,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY