overseas project in Cambodia. Chinese press reported in November 2010
that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with China Guodian
Corporation after China Southern Power Grid announced they were no
longer pursuing the project. ]
Dam Threatens Tribal Culture
Radio Free Asia (RFA)
Reported by Sek Bandit for RFA's Khmer service
6 April 2012
Cambodia has announced plans to build a controversial hydroelectric dam
in the country's southwest amidst protests by indigenous groups who say
the project will put their livelihood at risk.
Suy Sem, chief of Cambodiaï¿½s Industry, Mines and Energy Ministry, told
RFA this week that the government has decided to proceed with
construction of the Chinese-financed Stung Areng River Dam in Koh Kong
province. The Stung Areng Dam will have a production capacity of 100
megawatts when it is completed in 2017, he said.
Sources say construction on the dam will begin next year, displacing
several thousand families.
The announcement was met with concern by the indigenous Chhorng
population which inhabits three riparian communes alongside the Stung
Areng in Thmar Bang district. They claim that the dam construction will
destroy their forests, plantations, and ceremonial burial sites, as well
as their homes.
Members of the Chhorng have requested that the government reject the dam
project, saying that most of their indigenous forests have already been
razed through other development projects and that they now fear losing
their cultural identity.
Pralay Commune Chief Kim Chhe said his villagers don't want compensation
or relocation packages.
"I don't want to lose our culture. If officials come to conduct a study
for the dam, we ask that they please keep our sacred forest as well as
the graveyard forest. We want to keep those traditional beliefs," he said.
Villagers said officials had once conducted a study to build the dam in
2007, but there had been no new developments on the project until the
latest government announcement to proceed.
Villager representative Korng Chhoy said members of the indigenous
community are concerned they will be forced to move, adding that tribal
peoples are unaccustomed to life on the small plots of land typically
provided by the government for relocation because traditionally they
inhabit the forest.
"As we speak, the villagers are gathering resin and other things from
the forest," he said.
"If they are asked to relocate they will lose everything, including
their houses and rice fields."
Korng Chhoy said the community's ancestors had been living on the land
around the Stung Areng since the Angkor Wat period of the 12th century.
"We are thankful for development, but there are two kinds of
development: If the government brings tears, we don't want it. We want a
smiling development. We don't want to become slaves through
development," he said.
Environmentalists also voiced their concerns over the possible effects
on the area's rare wildlife, such as the Mountain Crocodile and Dragonfish.
Forestry official and Mountain Crocodile expert Sorn Piseth said that
the government would have to relocate crocodiles from the area if the
dam is to proceed.
"The crocodiles will be affected. If we don't help them, they will
become extinct," he said.
Appeal to stop
And opposition party lawmaker Son Chhay said dam construction in the
area would have a far-reaching impact, damaging an ecosystem that he called
unique to Asia."
"I am appealing to the government to stop the project immediately," he
said, adding that several species of rare wildlife living in the area
would be put at risk.
Son Chhay said he would resubmit a request to Heng Samrin, president of
Cambodia's National Assembly, or parliament, demanding that Prime
Minister Hun Sen clarify details of the dam project.
He said he will personally travel to Stung Areng to inspect the dam site
Chinese companies are currently building two other controversial dams in
Cambodia's Koh Kong province - the Ta Tai Hydroelectric Dam and the
Russie Chhrum Krom Dam.
The Ta Tai Dam will generate around 246 megawatts of electricity, while
the Russie Chhrum Krom Dam will have a capacity of 338 megawatts. Both
are expected to be completed in 2015.
Dam projects in Cambodia are often the source of regional unrest, as
residents of nearby riparian communities face forced relocations and the
loss of the natural resources they rely on.
In March, more than 500 ethnic minority residents of river communities
in Cambodiaï¿½s Stung Treng and Ratanakiri provinces held protests against
the construction of a Vietnamese-led Lower Se San 2 Hydroelectric Dam
that will relocate them from their ancestral land.
As many as 2,000 people - most of whom are members of ethnic minority
groups - are facing relocation because of the project, and environmental
activists say nearly 80,000 people will lose access to fish whose
migratory paths will be blocked by the dam.
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