An opposition lawmaker has called on Cambodia's prime minister to halt a controversial dam project and take measures to stop an illegal logging campaign at the reservoir of another that area inhabitants say are destroying their livelihood.
Sam Rainsy Party official Son Chhay put forward the allegations regarding the Stung Areng and Ta Tai hydroelectric dam projects in a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen endorsed by President Heng Samrin of Cambodia’s National Assembly, or parliament.
A copy of the letter was obtained by RFA on Friday.
By law, Hun Sen must respond to the letter within seven days of receiving it, either in written form or by addressing it before the National Assembly.
In the letter, Son Chhay alleged that the two dam sites, both located in Koh Kong province’s Thmar Bang district, were leading to mass scale destruction of forest and wildlife, affecting the living standards of residents.
He pointed to reports of illegal logging at the Ta Tai Dam Reservoir where community members say private companies have been cutting forest outside of authorized areas.
“Some companies are receiving a lot of benefits from the forest concession inside the dam’s reservoir areas. Those companies are not only cutting the forest inside the reservoir, but also outside its boundary, leaving little forest left,” the letter read.
He said that if the reports are true, the government must take measures to end such activities which could affect residents of three communes in Thmar Bang district.
He added that Thmar Bang district should be preserved for ecotourism purposes rather than hydro electricity projects.
“Preserving this area through ecotourism would draw more national revenue than building the [Stung Areng] dam. People have supported the idea of increasing the number of power plants, but in some cases hydroelectricity leads to bad consequences, such as with this project,” he wrote.
Son Chhay also demanded that the government reveal development plans of the dam to the public and to local villagers.
Hun Sen’s cabinet could not be reached for comment.
The opposition lawmaker told RFA on Friday that he had written the letter to Hun Sen after hearing the concerns of villagers who said the two dam projects would make the area uninhabitable.
Son Chhay said he wants the government to answer whether fears about the projects are unfounded or not.
He cited environmentalists who said both dams would cause irreparable destruction to the forest, wildlife, and the standard of living enjoyed by people who rely on the local ecology.
“[Companies] are cutting beyond the forest concession into the protected forest with an excuse that they are taking the area reserved for the dam reservoirs,” he said.
He added that the protected areas are home to rare wildlife including the Siamese Crocodile and Dragonfish, while some 8,000 families in three communes would be affected if the government allows the projects to go ahead.
Thmar Bang district governor Tor Savuth confirmed plans for the Stung Areng Dam project, but said he hadn’t received official details for its construction.
“I received the confirmation last year. The government wants to build the [Stung] Areng hydro dam,” he said.
“There was an environmental assessment study carried out and the groups have already concluded their work.”
Dam projects in Cambodia are often the source of regional unrest as residents of nearby riparian communities face forced relocations and the loss of the natural resources they rely on.
On Tuesday, more than 500 ethnic minority residents of river communities in Cambodia’s Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces held protests against the construction of a Vietnamese-led Lower Se San 2 Hydroelectric Dam that will relocate them from their ancestral land.
As many as 2,000 people—most of whom are members of ethnic minority groups—are facing relocation because of the project and environmental activists say nearly 80,000 people will lose access to fish whose migratory paths will be blocked by the dam.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.