Prime Minister Hun Sen has called environmental activists objecting to the construction of hydropower dams in Cambodia “extreme” insisting that such developments would benefit millions of people.
His remarks came on Wednesday during the inauguration of a dam located on the Tatay river in Koh Kong province’s Thma Baing district. Hun Sen said that the government decided to hand over about 3,000 hectares of land in protected and conservation areas in order for the dam to be built. The dam is capable of producing 246 megawatts of electricity.
“Thus, our options must be thoroughly considered on whether we dared to relinquish land amounting to 2,000 to 3,000 hectares in order to produce electricity for using throughout the country, creating jobs for thousands of people, or millions of people,” he said. “This is the point, because some environmentalism groups always object any development.”
The prime minister went on to claim that groups who object to hydropower developments were “extreme”.
“These environmentalism groups are extreme environmentalism groups,” he said, suggesting that such activists should be shown what life is like without access to electricity.
“We should give them resin torches and cut off the electricity from their homes because they only look at one side,” he said.
Hun Sen has in the past threatened to use heavy weapons against activists elsewhere in Koh Kong province, and his comments appeared to aimed at a group of locals and NGO workers who are opposing a hydroelectric dam in the Areng valley.
Spanish national Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, co-founder of the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia, was expelled from Cambodia in February after working with local residents to oppose the dam, planned by Chinese state-owned firm Sinohydro, in an untouched area of the Cardamom Mountains.
Hun Sen said publicly at the time that he would use rockets against anyone attempting to create a secessionist movement in the area. Hun Sen also announced he would not permit the project to start until 2018, however.
Cambodia has in the past relied strongly on electricity supplied by neighboring countries. To tackle the domestic shortfall in power supply, the government has permitted the construction of hydropower dams and coal-fired power plants around the country, mostly funded and constructed by Chinese banks and companies.
Kim Ry, a member of Mother Nature Cambodia, said Hun Sen’s comments on Wednesday were ill-considered, since he had ignored potential sources of power other than damming the country’s rivers.
“For us, I am not proud of having electricity generated from hydropower dams that destroy our natural resources,” he said.