Representatives of a massive hydropower dam project in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district approached local authorities late last month informing them that the government had granted the company permission to clear 36,000 hectares of land for a reservoir, officials said on Sunday.
The 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2 dam planned on the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers—and approved by the Council of Ministers in November—will displace about 5,000 villagers, who have yet to receive any information related to their resettlement.
Siek Mekong, Srekor commune chief, said that he was approached on January 25 by two representatives from local conglomerate Royal Group—which will build the dam alongside China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd.—who asked him to sign a document giving the company permission to clear forestland in preparation for the reservoir.
Mr. Mekong said that the document presented to him had been signed by Royal Group chairman Kith Meng.
“I would like to inform the commune chief that our company has received a license from the government to clear and start construction of the reservoir area that will be 36,000 hectares, and that right now, our company may begin to clear the forestland,” Mr. Mekong said, reading from the letter signed by Mr. Meng.
The representatives from Royal Group, named Lim Bonna and Has Vibol, also produced supporting documents of the company’s license to clear forestland that were signed by Energy Minister Suy Sem and Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun, Mr. Mekong added.
“The commune clerk said we need to sign it or else we will have a problem, because the top level has already approved it,” he said.
Contacted on Sunday, Mr. Meng referred questions to the government.
“I’m out of town right now. I can’t talk to you about anything. Talk to the government,” he said.
Even though Mr. Mekong signed the letter, he said that no land clearing should go ahead until villagers are properly compensated and relocated.
“I think both the companies— the Chinese and the Cambodian, should consider removing the villages to the resettlement site first before clearing the forest for the reservoir,” he said.
Provincial governor Loy Sophat confirmed that permission had been given to the company to clear land, though declined to comment further.
“We followed what the top level decision is, and the company has the license,” he said.
Meach Mean, a coordinator for 3S Rivers Protection Network, said that information on this project—which is slated to start this year—has been extremely sparse, from resettlement plans to the construction start date.
“The company should make clear what steps or what process or what plan they are working on,” he said.