A new project to bring electricity to Cambodia from Laos threatens to destroy about 5 hectares of protected forest land in Preah Vihear and is being carried out without the consultation of local communities, residents say.
According to documents obtained yesterday, the China National Heavy Machinery Cooperation was granted a permit to develop a 115-kilovolt power line that would connect the Kampong Thom region with Laos’ power grid via Peah Vihear province.
“The wires cross the border close to the Don Sahong site,” said an anonymous source researching the topic, referring to a proposed hydropower dam in Laos that ecologists say will have a devastating impact on the fisheries of the Mekong region.
The proposed power lines cut through protected community forest areas, he added.
Local communities in Preah Vihear have known about the proposed project for about a year but were not informed that it would require the destruction of protected forest area, local activists said.
Over the past 10 days, however, residents witnessed workers from the Chinese firm begin to dig up trees and earth, said Koeung Phorn, a member of Kampong Sranos Forestry Community.
“It destroys the forest that we have tried hard to protect. We are very disappointed, and they should have told us about this beforehand,” Phorn said, adding that many people in the community depend on the forest for their livelihood.
The forest community has since complained to local authorities and requested that the company stop its work. The Chinese company involved in the project is a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned enterprise Sinomach, which has numerous development projects in Cambodia and connections to the hydropower industry, the researcher and others said.
According to Mory Sar, vice president of the Cambodian Youth Network, which works frequently on environmental issues, Cambodia’s government is putting energy security above ecological concerns.
“It [is] assumed that the Cambodian government is ready to import the electricity from Laos, or from the [Don Sahong] Dam,” Sar said in an email.
“That is the reason the Cambodian government hesitated to oppose the dam construction.”
Cambodia’s energy sector relies almost entirely on imported electricity. Statistics released by the Electricity Authority of Cambodia in January showed that in 2015 Cambodia imported 277 megawatts of electricity from Vietnam, 135.5 from Thailand, and just 4 from Laos.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.