Ethnic minority villagers expecting to be displaced by a proposed Chinese-built hydroelectric dam in northeastern Cambodia are asking the country’s parliament not to approve a law providing financial guarantees for the project.
The law, scheduled for debate by Cambodian lawmakers on Friday, would compensate project developers if Cambodia’s major power company fails to pay for electricity it has promised to purchase, and will release developers from liability for the dam’s environmental or social impacts.
Villagers living along three rivers that will be affected by the dam spoke at a press conference hosted on Thursday by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, urging the National Assembly to reject the draft law.
Chan Thun, a representative from the Sesan district of Cambodia’s Strung Treng province, said that construction of the proposed Lower Sesan 2 Hydropower Dam would destroy protected forest areas and kill rare fish.
A vote approving the draft law would negatively impact local ethnic minority culture, he added.
“If the dam affects our ancestors’ graveyards, will the government pay us compensation?” he asked.
Speaking to reporters, NGO Forum executive director Chhit Sam Ath said that the Cambodian government should not ease the way for the project’s Chinese owners, Hydropower Lower Sesan 2 Company Ltd., to build the dam.
Environmental assessment studies have not been properly prepared, and construction of the dam would “seriously affect” villagers living along local rivers, he said.
Villagers would be likely to “revolt” against the dam’s construction, he added.
Seak Mekong, Srekor commune chief in Strung Treng province, told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday that villagers have petitioned authorities over their concerns and have asked for relocation sites, but have received no response.
“The governor of the province has talked about the planned construction with the Chinese company, but there was no discussion of compensation,” he said.
“Villagers say they will have a lot of problems,” area resident Suth Koen told RFA. “They will have to move their houses, farms, and ancestral graves.”
Cambodian Minister of Mines, Industry and Energy Suy Sem in December dismissed concerns about environmental damage resulting from construction or operation of the dam, saying that impact studies had been properly made.
But a Feb. 13 statement by environmental group International Rivers called the Lower Sesan 2 Dam “one of the worst proposed dams in the Lower Mekong Basin.”
“[The] Lower Sesan 2 will unleash irreversible environmental destruction and harm to the food security of the nation,” said International Rivers Southeast Asia Program director Ame Trandem.
“It would be irresponsible for the National Assembly to approve this draft law and proceed with the project. This dam threatens to undermine the country’s development,” Trandem said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.