Authorities in Stung Treng province on Sunday stopped a group of indigenous activists from reaching a village slated for imminent flooding by the Lower Sesan II hydropower dam but released them after escorting them to the provincial capital.
Meng Heng, a member of the environmental rights group Mother Nature, said he was traveling with the approximately 30 activists headed toward Kbal Romeas village to show their support for dozens of families refusing to abandon their homes to the dam when they were stopped by local police at about noon. “The 30 people were traveling in two trucks from [Mondolkiri] province and the Sesan district authorities stopped the trucks and brought them to the provincial police station, but they were released,” he said.
Mr. Heng said they were set free at about 5 p.m., after endorsing documents promising not to return without prior consent from local authorities, and headed back to Mondolkiri.
Hor Vuthy, head of the provincial police’s minor crimes bureau, said about 22 people were questioned and released. But he declined to say why and referred additional questions to district authorities, who also declined to explain why the activists were detained.
Most of the 5,000 people living on the 36,000 hectares the dam is set to turn into a giant reservoir have already moved to resettlement sites where the government and the companies building the 400-megawatt dam—Cambodia’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International Energy—are providing them with new homes and farms. But more than 100 families in Srekor and Kbal Romeas villages have refused the offer, worried that life will be much harder at the sites. Families in Srekor have prepared small shelters on a nearby “safety hill” for if and when the water reaches them.
The dam began closing its floodgates on July 15 for testing and is set to start producing power on September 25.
On Sunday, deputy provincial governor Duong Pov said eight of the 10 gates have since been closed and that the families refusing to leave Srekor village were told on Friday that the water would reach their homes in a week.
“We asked the people to cooperate with our authorities to move from the village to the safety hill, and if they volunteer we will take them to the relocation sites because we already built homes for the families,” he said. “It is difficult for us to rescue them because some villagers are refusing to cooperate with our authorities.”
Suth Thoeun, a Srekor village holdout, said the families didn’t want their help. “People don’t want help from the authorities because they know how to save themselves, but if they want to [help] it’s up to them because that is the job of the authorities,” he said. “I will only move from the villages if the water reaches the roof of my house.”
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