Representatives of the Bunong indigenous group living in the reservoir zone of the near-complete Lower Sesan II dam have called for a planned test of the project to be postponed.
The dam, a joint venture between Cambodia’s Royal Group and China’s HydroLancang International, is scheduled to be tested on Saturday, reportedly flooding an area where villagers have refused to leave.
Choeun Sreymom, a Kbal Romeas community representative, called on the authorities to give villagers one month to remove their possessions before testing took place.
Two communities of some several hundred people, Kbal Romeas and Srekor, have refused compensation offers and remain in the reservoir zone.
Duong Pov, Stung Treng deputy governor, said there would be no delay in the testing process, saying the villagers had already been offered relocation sites. “There will be a problem if they want to move to a safe place when the water floods their area. That’s their choice,” he said, adding that government aid would be provided to residents if needed.
Sreymom said that villagers would move temporarily but that it should not be construed as an acceptance of compensation.
“The indigenous minority people have collective land, burial sites, land for rotational farming, orchards. So when the authorities give us five hectares per family, there will be no more collective ownership,” she said.
The $800 million Lower Sesan II dam will produce up to 400 megawatts of electricity.
Pov said that Prime Minister Hun Sen would inaugurate the project in September and the armed forces would be guarding the dam against sabotage.
Dam Samnang, another Kbal Romeas representative, said villagers would protect their ancestors’ burial grounds. “We are also human beings. I want to protect the identity of my indigenous minority people.