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Villagers in limbo as dam starts

A local resident looks out across the water from a small jetty last year where the controversial Lower Sesan II Dam is planned in Stung Treng province.
A local resident looks out across the water from a small jetty last year where the controversial Lower Sesan II Dam is planned in Stung Treng province. Vireak Mai

Villagers in limbo as dam starts

Construction at the controversial Lower Sesan II dam site in Stung Treng province has already begun, according to villagers, who will today petition several ministries, the Chinese embassy and the headquarters of the Royal Group to open negotiations with them.

According to the villagers, who travelled to Phnom Penh yesterday, several families have already been relocated and offers of compensation have been pitiful. The Royal Group is contracted to build the dam with Chinese firm Hydrolancang International Energy Co Ltd.

Fut Khoeurn, 35, a representative of three villages that will be flooded by the dam’s reservoir – Kara Bey Chrum, Kbal Romean and Srey Sronok – said yesterday that the government and Hydrolancang did not discuss compensation with villagers.

“The compensation is unacceptable. It’s miserable. If we do not get more compensation, we will not relocate,” Khoeurn said, adding that the authorities plan to relocate them to a rocky hillside across the river from their current villages, which are situated on arable land.

Adding to the villagers’ concerns, the companies have not considered that the communities’ burial grounds will also be flooded.

“Our graveyards and spirit places of our ancestors are not included in the compensation list.… Many generations of our ancestors are buried there,” Khoeurn said.

In late January, representatives of Hydrolancang met with Prime Minister Hun Sen to discuss the project. The government then said it would begin construction at the site in early February.

“The government only listens from the top down. It’s a decision between the government and companies,” Khoeurn said.

Meach Mean, coordinator of 3S Rivers Network, which represents some 75,000 people who may be affected by the dam, said that construction at the site had already begun.

“All of the roads have been built, and they also began drilling in the riverbed last month. And some villagers around the dam site, about 12 families, have received compensation and relocated,” he said.

Mean said yesterday that there was no clear policy on compensation, while villagers said they had been offered about $50 per square metre.

He added that if construction proceeded without the firms providing a proper relocation site, the government’s promises would have been broken.

“It will be the opposite of what [Hun Sen] has said. He said water, infrastructure, roads, hospitals, housing, everything would be ready before the community began to move to the new village.”

Dam Samnang, 28, another community representative, begged the government to seek a solution to the dispute.

“The government does not think about us. We want them to talk to us,” he said. “The problems are not solved yet, but the construction has already started.”

Hak Vimean, deputy director for the provincial environment department, declined to comment on the construction, and Tung Ciny, deputy director general of the Ministry of Industry, Mining and Energy, could not be reached.

Mean said that the main problem with the companies’ relocation plan was a lack of food security in the future, while some villagers, he added, had only been offered 20 kilograms of rice and some lamp oil to tide them over.

“This is the big problem in the future. When they are moving to the new area, their occupation will be stopped, so they will not have any income. They cannot produce agriculture [at the new site]. Twenty kilograms of rice cannot sustain their families,” he said.

Representatives of the Royal Group and Hydrolancing did not immediately respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Ang & Associates, a Royal Group subsidiary, reportedly signed a joint-venture agreement with local businessman Sok Vanna, the brother of Sokimex founder Sok Kong, to clear the 36,000-hectare site in preparation for the $816 million project. Construction of the dam is due to be completed by 2017.

Ly Be, 60, a villager from the reservoir site, said: “It’s hopeless now, because construction has already started.”

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