Lawmaker Orders Photos, Video of Event Erased

Villagers in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley, the site of a proposed hydropower dam opposed by most of the local ethnic minority Chong, say police deleted their photos and video of a visit by CPP lawmaker Ay Khorn on Friday to promote the project’s potential benefits.

If approved, the Stung Cheay Areng dam would flood about 10,000 hectares of the valley, forcing more than 300 Chong families to leave their ancestral lands and wiping out the habitat of some 30 threatened or endangered animal species. The government says it will not approve the project before 2018, and will only do so after the completion of social and environmental impact assessments, but officials have already started lobbying the villagers for their support.

Hoeng Pov, an ethnic Chong, said Mr. Khorn, who represents Koh Kong in the National Assembly, visited the valley on Friday with about 20 soldiers, police and military police to make his own pitch for the dam. But once Mr. Khorn was done speaking, the lawmaker ordered his security detail to take Mr. Pov’s phone away—along with the phones and camera of four others, according to Mr. Pov.

He said the phones and camera were handed back only after all their photos and video of the meeting had been deleted.

“I was at the forum when he ordered the police to confiscate five mobile phones,” said Mr. Pov, a member of the NGO Mother Nature, which has actively opposed the project.

“What [Mr. Khorn] said was very biased because he explained that if construction of the dam is allowed there will be benefits such as electricity, cleaner water and more fish,” he added. “But where will the fish come from if the dam is built?”

Mother Nature member Kim Ry said he, too, had his phone confiscated and returned with his photos of the event deleted.

“[Mr. Khorn] explained that photos of him would be used to misrepresent what happened and that people would say this and that after they heard his voice,” he said. “I think that the people’s rights were violated.”

Neither Mr. Khorn nor Thma Baing district officials could be reached Sunday. CPP spokesman Sok Ey San declined to comment on the event because he was not there and did not know what happened.

Last month, the government deported Mother Nature co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson after refusing to renew the Spanish national’s visa.

The government says it refused to renew the visa because of an illegal checkpoint the outspoken environmental activist helped set up along the main route to the Areng Valley in hopes of keeping out the Chinese firm, Sinohydro Resources, that is helping to build the dam. Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson and his supporters say the government wanted him out of the way in order to push ahead with the project unopposed.

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