A group of 161 ethnic Lao families in Stung Treng’s Sesan district have accepted $200 per family in compensation for ancestral graves that have been flooded by the Lower Sesan II hydroelectric dam, a local official said yesterday.
The villagers, who have been displaced by the flooding caused by the dam, met Mines and Energy Ministry officials and representatives of the dam company to discuss the graves on Wednesday, said Srekor Commune Chief Siek Mekong.
“The villagers agreed to take the compensation. They were given $200 per family, and they raised their hands to accept it,” Mekong said.
He added that 91 other families who had not left their old villages behind had been excluded from the deal because they had refused to leave the flooded area.
Another group of 82 ethnic Phnong families left the nearby Kbal Romea village to an assigned relocation site and accepted compensation for their ancestors’ graves months ago. At that time, 58 Phnong families also refused to leave or accept money, angered by the thought of leaving the graves.
Former Kbal Romea resident Nhao Kuy, 36, said yesterday that the Phnong families in his village had accepted $150 per grave as part of that deal. His family, he said, had received $750 in total for the graves of his parents, grandparents and brother, having pushed for $300 per grave.
Kuy said that Phnong, by tradition, would not exhume their ancestors’ graves, and that the decision to abandon the graves was a hefty one to make.“I prayed to tell them that I moved out, I will not be able to look after the grave any-more,” Kuy explained.
“We prayed to end the relationship.”Not praying would lead to illnesses, he said.However, Dam Samnang, a Kbal Romea community representative who still refuses to relocate from his increasingly flooded community, decried the offers of money for the graves of the community’s ancestors last week, explaining that the graves were priceless and could not compensated.
“It is not acceptable to pay $100 or $200 for our ancestors’ graves,” Samnang said at a press conference in Phnom Penh, saying there was a double standard at play.
“If I have money and I offer to buy the graves of the prime minister’s parents, would he sell them? I believe he would not sell.”