Provincial authorities deployed police and Military Police officials outside Kbal Romeas village in Stung Treng’s Sesan district yesterday to prevent outsiders from entering villages threatened by flooding from the Lower Sesan II dam.
The police blockade came into force Sunday, when authorities detained and questioned 24 members of an indigenous network from Mondulkiri province at the provincial police station.
Vaing Samrith, an ethnic Phnong who works as a translator, said that 20 police and Military Police officers stopped him and a foreign photographer near the Kroobey Chrom pagoda as they tried to reach Kbal Romeas village yesterday morning.
The photographer corroborated the story but asked to remain anonymous. Samrith said that he and his colleague were forced to erase photos they took of the officers. After around 40 minutes, Samrith decided to turn back.
Meng Heng, of the environmental NGO Mother Nature, said three more foreign journalists were stopped by police yesterday for about 30 minutes. A video Heng posted on Facebook shows police stopping a crowd of people – including the three foreigners – along a dirt road.
Romeas residents and environmental activists from Mother Nature finally escorted the journalists past the police officials. Journalists seen in the video could not be reached as of press time.
Kbal Romeas community representative Dam Samnang said that he expects around 300 people from across Cambodia to gather in his village today for a series of events, including a press conference, traditional prayers and the construction of floating homes for locals in anticipation of flooding following the closure of one of the dam’s gates.
So far, he said, only 100 people, mostly members of ethnic minority groups from neighbouring provinces, have arrived, due to police interference.
Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association President Ngach Samin criticised police efforts to prevent outsiders from accessing Kbal Romeas and Srekor, pointing to Article 40 of the Cambodian Constitution, which protects citizens’ freedom of movement.
Provincial Hall spokesman Men Kong said police were only trying to prevent outsiders from entering the villages for their own good as rising waters caused by the closure of the dam’s doors threatens both Srekor and Kbal Romeas with flooding.
Yesterday, provincial authorities released a statement saying that Srekor village will flood on Friday and called on the village’s remaining inhabitants to abandon their homes.