Dam Activists Promise Postholiday Protests

A group of environmental activists who were briefly detained in Koh Kong province last week for blocking a government convoy attempting to reach the site of a controversial dam project says it will begin protesting this week against the venture in front of the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Phnom Penh offices of the companies involved.

Members of the NGOs Mother Nature and Khmer Youth Empire have supported ethnic Chong families in Koh Kong in their fight against plans by the government and China’s Sinohydro Resources to build a 108-MW hydropower dam that would flood some 20,000 hectares of the Areng Valley, force hundreds of families to move away and wipe out a critical wildlife habitat.

On September 15, local police arrested 11 activists—10 of whom were detained overnight—after they parked a jeep across the only road that leads into or out of the valley, blocking a convoy of government vehicles carrying, among other officials, provincial deputy governor Phon Lyvirak.

Although all 11 activists were released without charge, authorities dismantled the camp they had set up on the side of the road and posted soldiers at the site to make sure the route to the Stung Cheay Areng Dam remained open.

Undeterred, Mother Nature co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said on Tuesday the group would start protesting this week in front of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, as well as Sinohydro’s Phnom Penh offices and those of Sawac Consultants for Development, a subcontractor hired to carry out a social and environmental impact assessment of the dam project.

“We will demonstrate after Pchum Ben to tell the government to cancel the proposed Areng dam,” Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said.

The public holiday ends today.

And despite the recently deployed soldiers, Mother Nature activist Sin Samnang said the NGOs and Chong families would still attempt to block the road at the first sign that Sinohydro or Sawac workers were trying to enter the valley.

“I think it is a threat to the community and the activists to post soldiers there, but we will still block the road if we hear the Chinese company is trying to enter the valley,” he said.

Brigadier General Yon Min, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander in Koh Kong, said his troops would remain stationed by the road indefinitely.

“We have to act against any unlawful activity, because no one is allowed to block a public road like secessionists,” he said.

Um Sereivuth, Sawac’s team leader on the Areng dam impact assessment, said the activists blocked him from entering the valley in May, and that he was waiting for authorities to tell him the way had been cleared.

“We often contact the governor, but he [says] ‘not yet,’” he said.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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