Authorities in Cambodia detained 11 environmental activists on Monday for allegedly blocking officials from visiting a proposed China-backed dam site in a southwest province.
Koh Kong provincial authorities rounded up the local activists, including Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson, the president of Mother Nature Cambodia, saying they blocked a road preventing provincial governor Phon Lyvirak and Chinese experts from visiting the Chhay Areng dam project site.
Sam Kitviet, Koh Kong’s provincial police chief, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the 11 had been “invited” for questioning, rejecting claims they had been arrested.
“We invited them to be questioned because they used a car to set up a roadblock [to prevent] the provincial officials from visiting the villagers,” he said.
Although Gonzalez Davidson, a Spanish citizen, was released, the others remain in custody.
Gonzalez Davidson told RFA that villagers set up the road block after receiving information that Chinese experts and officials were traveling to the province to conduct studies on the impact of the dam to be built by China’s Sinohydro Corp., the world’s largest hydropower construction company.
He said villages do not believe that such experts conduct fair impact studies.
‘Very high’ cost
Mother Nature Cambodia contends that the hydroelectric power dam would wipe out the local culture and biodiversity in the Areng Valley, where it would be built.
It said that electricity at the proposed 108-megawatt project would be generated at a “very high” cost of investment.
Environmental activists and locals argue that the dam would flood parts of the Areng Valley, displacing residents and destroying the ancestral area of the Chong minority group that lives there.
The activists suspect the authorities of helping the Chinese company conduct research for the planned hydropower dam, Chhoun Chhundy, program manager of the Cambodian Legal Education Center, a local non-governmental organization, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Gonzalez Davidson said the detentions would not intimidate Mother Nature Cambodia, accusing the government of intimidating the activists.
“I have told activists many times that if we interfere in Areng affairs, we must prepare ourselves to be intimidated or imprisoned,” he said.
In March, ethnic minority villagers in the Areng Valley blocked a dirt road that Sinohydro used to transport heavy machinery to the dam site to begin construction.
In Phnom Penh last weekend, villagers and monks held a hunger strike in front of Chinese embassy to protest the dam’s construction, but authorities dispersed the gathering.
Ly Chan Neng, an activist monk, told RFA that villagers were concerned that the project would destroy a wildlife sanctuary and the harmony of the communities that live in the Areng Valley.
Reported by Samean Yun and Tep Nimol for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.