Following a visit by representatives of the Chinese company planning to build a controversial 108-MW hydropower dam in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley, local officials and residents say they fear that construction on the project, which will require the evacuation of an estimated 1,500 villagers, will begin soon.
“On February 28, the company came to the dam to conduct a study and also tried to rent land from the villagers to store their construction equipment,” said Thma Baing district Governor Tou Savuth.
Mr. Savuth said that 600 families from three communes would be impacted by the construction of the dam by China’s Guodian Corporation, which plans to flood almost 2,000 hectares of land, some of which would include sacred forestland in the Cardamom Protected Forest. Environmentalists have said that rare animal and plant species in the forests, including the endangered Siamese Crocodile, will also be negatively impacted by the project.
The families will be moved to relocation sites 10 to 20 km from their current homes, Mr. Savuth added.
“The people are asking to have new houses built with better living conditions than the houses they are moving out of,” he said.
Pich Siyun, director of the Koh Kong provincial department of mines and energy, confirmed that representatives of the Guodian Corporation visited the dam construction site last week, but said he still was not sure when the project would begin.
“We don’t know when the specific start time for the dam at Areng will be, but everything has been studied and all villagers who live around the dam area will be relocated to a new place,” he said, adding that local residents had already met with local officials and agreed to the move.
“However, Hing Pov, an indigenous Chhung minority resident of Chumnap commune, said that villagers were very nervous about the prospect of losing their homes and farmland since the Guodian Corporation took over the stalled project last year.
“I wish the company will change their mind,” Mr. Pov said. “If they really can’t stop it, we would like to suggest that the company provides us with a new field to grow our products on and a house with better conditions.”