More than 30 university students from Phnom Penh were blocked by police on Saturday from visiting communities affected by the Lower Sesan II hydropower dam project in Stung Treng.
Meng Heng, an activist with conservation NGO Mother Nature, said that the students were on their way to visit villagers in Srekor and Kbal Romea who are refusing to relocate. The students were denied entry by about 20 police and Military Police who claimed the area was unsafe.
“A pickup truck full of police overtook them and stopped in front of the bus to . . . force them to return,” Heng said.
“We tried to persuade officials to allow them to access, but they still said no, saying that they had orders from their senior official. Some of the students felt fear, and they all returned,” Heng continued.
Heng said the students wanted to see the reality of the villagers’ situation for themselves.
“The authority does not want the information to be heard by outsiders,” he said, claiming the local authorities were acting like dictators.
About 120 families in Srekor and 58 in Kbal Romea are refusing to relocate, despite the imminent flooding of their villages when the dam closes its gates.
Choeun Sreymom, a villager from Kbal Romea, said she was disappointed that the students were denied entry, and accused the authorities of violating human rights.
“The students are simple people who want to know our difficulties,” she said.
Men Kong, Stung Treng Provincial Hall spokesman, said authorities are working to resolve the dispute with the villagers, and outsiders would just cause a disturbance.
“We were concerned about their safety,” Kong said.