Some 50 people gathered outside the headquarters of Angkor Beer in Phnom Penh on Friday afternoon to protest the construction of the controversial Don Sahong hydropower dam in Laos by a Malaysian company, arguing that an executive connected to both firms should intervene to halt work on the dam.
Because the dam is located about a kilometer from the Cambodia-Laos border on the Mekong River, activists argue that Cambodians should have been consulted about its potential social and environmental effects.
“Stop Don Sahong! If not, no Angkor Beer!” chanted the protesters, most of them from communities that expect to be negatively impacted by the dam.
Mega First Corporation Berhad, the company building the dam, is controlled by Malaysian businessman Goh Nan Kioh. Mr. Goh also holds a 50-percent stake in Cambrew, which makes Angkor Beer.
“By this association, Cambrew and Mr. Goh Nan Kioh share in the responsibility of development of the Don Sahong Dam and its impact on communities in Cambodia,” read a joint statement issued on Friday by affected communities and civil society organizations.
However, representatives of Cambrew insisted that the company was not an appropriate target for anti-dam protests.
“Cambrew is not involved with Don Sahong Dam at all…. All of the protesters should go to talk with the Laotian government. They should not go against our business in this way,” said Ngeab Chhengleap, Cambrew’s human resources and administration executive.
One of the activists, Ham Odom, said the group was targeting Angkor Beer in order to raise the visibility of the anti-dam campaign. But while some protesters said they understood that the project was not directly connected to Cambrew, others seemed to believe that the beer company was funding the dam.
Thoy Vanna, a tour boat operator who traveled from his home near the border in Stung Treng province’s Thala Barivat district to attend the protest, spoke fervently about the potential damage to his livelihood that the dam would cause, but assumed that Cambrew was in charge of the project.
“I will lose my job when they build the dam because I am a boat driver for ecotourism visitors,” he said. “We came here because we want Angkor Beer to rethink this project.”
Environmentalists and scientists say the Don Sahong has the potential to wipe out the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphin and deplete numerous fish species that communities along the Mekong rely on for their livelihoods.
Construction began in December last year despite protests from the Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese governments over a lack of adequate consultation.