Families Demand More Dam Compensation

Representatives of more than 250 ethnic Lao families in Stung Treng province, near the border with Laos, met under a mango tree Monday and decided to reject a compensation package offered by the developer of the Lower Sesan II dam.

In January, the government approved a deal that would give the Lao villagers between $2 and $44 for the loss of each fruit tree to the dam, depending on the species. The deal would also pay them for three local pagodas, if they have to be destroyed.

Initially, the ethnic Lao families from Srekor commune agreed they would accept this offer, but changed their minds Monday, commune chief Seak Mekong said.

“We held the meeting under the tree today to explain to the villagers, so that they understand the effects,” Mr. Mekong said.

“We are not able to accept the solution because it is not appropriate compensation for the villagers as they have been living here since 1985,” he added.

The 400MW dam is being built in a joint venture between a Chinese firm, Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd., and a local conglomerate, Royal Group, whose chairman Kith Meng often is seen in the company of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mr. Mekong said that villagers also decided to demand compensation for a cemetery that would be flooded by the dam’s reservoir.

“Villagers demanded $20,000 for a cemetery, and for a ceremony to the spirit of their ancestors before leaving their village,” he said.

Chan Thun, a 72-year-old villager who has lived on the same 25-by-30-meter plot of land in Srekor commune about 30 years, said that as most people’s livelihoods depended on the river, compensation had to be appropriate.

“We don’t oppose the construction of the dam, but we cannot leave our homeland with small compensation,” Mr. Thun said.

District deputy governor Sovan Piseth said he was unaware of Monday’s meeting.

“Most villagers already accepted the government’s policy to offer compensation, but I think they probably changed their mind and decided not to leave their homeland because somebody incited them,” he added.

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