Official DisputesWhen Dam Clearing Ceased

A Stung Treng province district official on Sunday contradicted claims that logging in the area designated for the Sesan 2 dam had ceased a month ago, saying that it had only stopped last week after direct orders from the government to do so.

On Thursday, Ministry of Agri­cul­ture officials informed provincial authorities that the government had ordered Ang & Asso­ciates Lawyer Co. Ltd., a company owned by well-known businessman Kith Meng, to cease clearing forest for the Lower Sesan 2 dam.

The order was issued to stop “anarchic deforestation” in the area being cleared for the future dam’s reservoir, according to the halt order.

Last week, Chan Ang, the personal secretary of Sok Vanna, who was contracted to carry out the land clearing on behalf of Mr. Meng’s Ang & Associates, said the land clearing had ceased about one month prior to the government order.

However, Yeang Srey Sary, acting governor for Sesan district, said that clearing only stopped on Thursday, following intervention from government officials.

“The company suspended the clearing in the reservoir since Oc­tober 24 after they met with the provincial authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture,” she said.

“Before they received the no­tice, they had been logging in the area,” she added.

According to documents related to the dam, which is being built by Mr. Meng’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd., the area given over by the government to the companies for the dam project covers 36,000 hectares in Sesan district.

Contacted Sunday, Mr. Ang reiterated that Mr. Vanna’s company had ceased clearing the land about a month ago. Mr. Vanna is the brother of Sok Kong, the founder of powerful local conglomerate Sokimex Group.

“As I mentioned, he’s already stopped before,” Mr. Ang said.

Mr. Meng has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Siek Mekong, chief of Srekor commune, which lies within the reservoir area, claimed that he had witnessed logs that were cut outside the dam area being transported inside the boundaries of the reservoir, though it has recently stopped.

“Since early October, I haven’t seen wood being transported from outside to inside the reservoir,” Mr. Mekong said.

Forestry Administration spokes­man Thun Sarath said Sunday that an interministerial committee will be formed next week to investigate claims of illegal logging in the vicinity of the dam, and to officially demarcate the boundaries of the reservoir area.

(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)

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