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Activist Advises Vigilance Over the Areng Valley

Alex Gonzalez Davidson before boarding on a plane to Spain on February 23, 2015 in Phnom Penh.
Alex Gonzalez Davidson before boarding on a plane to Spain on February 23, 2015 in Phnom Penh.

An environmental activist expelled from Cambodia last month says he holds little hope the government will refrain from building a hydroelectric dam in the Areng Valley of Koh Kong province.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, who was deported in February after leading a campaign against the dam and critical of the government, told “Hello VOA” that Prime Minister Hun Sen and the national government likely plan to build after the 2018 election.

Activists will have to continue to monitor the valley in the meantime, the activist said Thursday.

“This is because the national government can issue a license to conduct a study there, but authorities at the provincial level can collude with the private company that holds the license to do more illegal activities, like mining and illegal logging as what we have seen throughout the country,” he said.

Hun Sen announced a delay to the project last week, a day after Gonzalez-Davidson was put on a plane to Madrid. The prime minister then threatened to launch military rockets into the valley if residents there “dare” attempt what he called a secessionist movement.

The dam, licensed to the Chinese company Sinohydro, could produce between 60 and 100 megawatts of power, depending on the season. Work has not yet started on the dam, which has seen strong objection from people who live in the Areng Valley and from other activists who say it would damage a rare ecosystem.

“If there is any change or a situation that impacts the mentality and culture of the Chong ethnic minority group in Areng, we will continue to be vocal and work with the community and youth groups in Phnom Penh to stop the Chinese from going into Areng,” Sun Mala, co-founder of Mother Nature, told VOA Khmer.

Activists also appealed to other environmentalists to join them to protect the area and expand their monitoring activities to other areas currently under threat of deforestation and sand dredging.

“We appeal to young people to continue their work to protect the forest and safeguard natural resources, because destruction of natural resources has occurred throughout the country, which requires us to expand our activity nationwide,” Gonzalez-Davidson said.