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An unsettling prospect

Locals watch as Chinese engineers prepare to undertake a feasibility study for Stung Cheay Areng dam in November 2012
Locals watch as Chinese engineers prepare to undertake a feasibility study for the Stung Cheay Areng dam in November 2012. INTERNATIONAL RIVERS

An unsettling prospect

Resettlement studies are being carried out at the site of the proposed Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province, officials said yesterday, amid suggestions that yet another Chinese company is now involved in the controversial project.

Tou Savuth, Thma Bang district governor, said staff from the Phnom Penh-based firm Social, Business and Khmer Research & Development (SBK) along with district and Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy officials had been working in the area since Friday.

“The experts have been there … directly counting the villagers and homes, so that we know how many will be affected by the dam project,” he said.

The team had already estimated that some 400 families in three communes would be relocated to make way for the dam, Savuth said.

China Southern Power Grid unveiled the 109-megawatt dam project in 2010 before later shelving it. Another Chinese company, China Guodian Corporation, soon took over the project, but details about proposed construction have since been unclear.

A company representative from the Phnom Penh office of Chinese state-owned Sinohydro Corporation Limited – the world’s biggest hydropower construction company – said yesterday that his firm was now involved in the Stung Cheay Areng project, but said that he could not provide more details.

“The company is involved, [but] the project is very complicated,” he said.

More detailed responses would take a few days to gather, he added.

A separate source told the Post that SBK is carrying out research for Sinohydro, which finished building the 193-megawatt Kamchay hydroelectric dam in Kampot province in 2011.

An employee from SBK said yesterday that the firm had been contracted to undertake work in the area for a company, but added that he was not in a position to disclose information about the project without first seeking permission.

Savuth, the district governor, said that he did not recall the name of the Chinese company commissioning SBK or whether plans had been made to expand the dam’s size.

“A previous study suggested that the villagers must be relocated to a new site where they can farm,” he said. “[We] must relocate them because of the effects of the project.”

As previous plans had stood, only homes and farms would be affected, he added.

“But if the dam project is expanded, it will further affect some natural resources. It cannot be avoided.”

The dam, slated to be built at the edge of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, is of great concern to environmental groups, which say the area is one of the most biologically diverse in the region.

International Rivers has said the dam would force at least 1,500 people off their land, while the reservoir would flood “the habitat of 31 endangered fauna species”.

In recent Post reports, villagers have expressed fears of losing access to their livelihood and education for their children.

In November, as opposition to the project heightened, But Buntenh and fellow members of the Independent Monks Network marched through forest in the Areng Valley to protest against the proposed dam.

Buntenh said yesterday that the latest work was a threat to the locals and that 100 monks planned to go there again to protest.

“They’re not going there to study the effects of the dams, but to tell the villagers to get ready to relocate. They told villagers that they have permission from the government, so they should prepare to leave.”

Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy officials could not be reached yesterday, while Ministry of Land Management spokesman Beng Hong Socheat Khemro said he was not aware of the situation.

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