Loan and aid agreements with China signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week are meager compensation for the environmental damage in Cambodia caused by Chinese dams upstream, a local environmental NGO official said Monday.
Mak Sothirith, director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, criticized China for its dam construction, which he blamed for the lowest Mekong River water levels in a decade.
“I wonder that the aid China donated to Cambodia is not equivalent to what China did to the environment of the Mekong, which Cambodia is dependent on more than other nations,” he said.
He said Hun Sen and the Cambodian delegation appeared not to have pushed the issue of environmental damage during their visit to China last week in favor of maintaining close relations with that country.
“The government thinks much more of making international relations with China than pressing environmental concerns,” Mak Sothirith said.
Meanwhile, other officials claimed the agreements violated the Constitution, since they were signed without the approval of the National Assembly.
“The loan is illegal,” Sam Rainsy Party Senator Ou Bunlong said Monday.
One Funcinpec official, who declined to be named, agreed, referring to Article 90 of the Constitution that states that loans and financial commitments must be approved by parliament.
Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng, however, dismissed questions about the legality.“The government still has a right to seek assistance for the people,” he said Monday. Politicians criticizing the agreements “should have pity on the people,” he added.
He declined to say if the delegation had raised the issue of the Mekong’s low water levels with the Chinese. But he admonished critics, saying: “I don’t think people should advise us on how to swim when we can swim on our own.”
Funcinpec Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh also defended the government for signing the agreements upon his return from China Monday.
“China is a big friend of Cambodia and also ensures stability in the region,” the prince said. “Chinese aid is not for any individual, but for the whole of Cambodia to develop the country.”