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As Waters Rise, Dam Holdouts Claim Freedoms Being Restricted


The husband and wife live near the Sesan River in Phluk village of Stung Treng province. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

More than 4,000 families have already relocated to make way for the floodwaters, most from the ethnic Bunong and Kuy minorities.

Water levels have continued to rise in Srekor village in Stung Treng province, upstream from the massive Lower Sesan II hydropower dam, where more than a hundred villagers have refused to move as testing of the dam begins.

Choeun Sreymom, a Kbal Romeas community representative, said that the water had now reached knee-height in parts of Srekor village. As for his village of Kbal Romeas, he remains hopeful that the predicted flood will not arrive. “We have to wait until the rain stops and when they close all of the dam’s gates to get 72 meters of water as required. If our place is not flooded, we will not move anywhere else,” she said.

She added that the authorities had deployed roadblocks to prevent people accessing the flood zone, including recently blocking two U.N. officials.

More than 4,000 families have already relocated to make way for the floodwaters, most from the ethnic Bunong and Kuy minorities. For generations, they have lived off of the fish and land made rich from sediment carried by the Sesan and Srepok rivers, Mekong tributaries which converge near the dam site.

With the construction of the dam, their world will forever change. The 400 MW dam is intended to reduce Cambodia’s dependence on its neighbors and spur development. The $816 million Lower Sesan II is a key plank in the government’s economic strategy, majority owned by China’s HydroLancang International, minority stakes are also held by Vietnam’s EVN, and the Royal Group, a conglomerate owned by Kith Meng, one of Cambodia’s most influential tycoons.

Sarun Sokhom, a Srekor village representative, in a Facebook video posted on July 29, said “I ask that the authorities stop deploying forces including police and soldiers to guard us like prisoners and illegal immigrants,” she said.

Duong Pov, Stung Treng deputy governor, dismissed claims that villagers’ freedom of movement was being restricted. “They restrict themselves because they didn’t want the authorities to help them,” he said. “The authorities didn’t go in to treat them badly or remove their homes.”

Pov added that the authorities would not force the holdouts to move. “The villages will be located at the bottom of the reservoir,” he said.

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