Villagers living along Mekong River tributaries in northeastern Cambodia protested in front of the Chinese embassy in the capital Phnom Penh calling on the authorities to scrap three proposed China-backed dam projects, citing environmental and other concerns.
Villagers from riparian communities along the Sesan, Sekong and Srepok rivers presented a petition to the embassy detailing the plight of the 75,000 people they say could be directly affected by the proposed dams, representatives told RFA’s Khmer Service.
The petition called on Chinese Ambassador Bu Jianguo to “stop Chinese companies Hydrolancang International Energy and Hounan Group from building the 400 megawatt Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam,” which is to be built in conjunction with Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group.
The petition—collated by the 3S Rivers Protection Network, which represents those threatened by the dams—called on the Chinese authorities to also scrap two proposed, 300 megawatt dams in Ratanakiri.
They are the Lower Sesan 3 dam to be developed by China’s Sinohydro Resources and the Srepok 3 dam undertaken by Huadian Hong Kong Co. Ltd.
The petition also called on Ambassador Bu to “meet with villagers to learn about the impacts from the hydropower dams.”
Recent studies suggest the Lower Sesan 2 project in Stung Treng could displace 5,000 people and adversely affect 100,000 more through a more than 9 percent drop in fish stocks in the Mekong Basin.
Villagers campaigning against the dam have expressed concern about compensation for villagers displaced by the project, which they say would also destroy protected forest areas, kill rare fish, and negatively impact local ethnic minority culture.
Srepok River representative Tan Cheang told RFA that the Chinese environmental attaché had met with villagers to accept the petition and assured them that the embassy would investigate the villagers’ claims.
“The officials said that they will work to resolve the issue, but that the government had already granted the companies’ licenses,” Tan Cheang said.
“We want a meeting between the companies, embassy officials and the villagers. [The embassy officials] said that they will conduct studies at the sites and if there are potential impacts they will resolve the issues with us.”
Embassy officials informed the villagers that if they could not find a resolution to the dispute, they would ask the companies to meet directly with the riparian communities, Tan Cheang said.
Villager representatives said that they had also petitioned Cambodia’s National Assembly, or parliament, to resolve the dam disputes, but had received no response. However, National Assembly spokesman Chheang Von told RFA that the assembly had not received any petitions on the issue.
Impacts outweigh benefits
Hoy Soth, a representative for villagers living near the Lower Sesan 3 dam site said the villagers don’t want any dams “because the environmental impacts outweigh the benefits” such as access to electricity.
“The first impact will be our eviction, the second is that the dam will cause the fish stocks to decline and the third is that we will lose our cultural traditions,” she said, adding that a local indigenous spiritual ceremony held on the river would be affected by the dam.
She said that a hydropower dam that had been completed across the border in nearby Vietnam already affects their daily living standards.
The Cambodia Daily quoted Meach Mean, coordinator at 3S Rivers, as saying that the Chinese companies should exercise social responsibility and pull out of construction.
“We think that whenever the Chinese companies reconsider and withdraw from the construction of hydropower dams, the construction by a local company solely will never be able to start,” he said, adding that Sinohydro and Huadian had reportedly completed environmental and social impact assessments to build the dams in Ratanakiri.
Land-clearing preparations for the Lower Sesan 2, which were started in March, were suspended by the government in October.
But the Cambodia Daily quoted Puth Khoeun, a representative of Srekor commune in Stung Treng’s Sesan district, as saying that the halt in clearing appeared to be temporary.
“It seems the company is just taking a break for a while since machinery and workers are still staying at a wood warehouse built about 1 kilometer (half a mile) away from the commune office,” he said.
Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.