Sesan Resettlement in Hands of Power Utility

government committee an­nounced yesterday that the resettlement of 5,000 villagers who will be displaced by the construction of a hydropower dam in Stung Treng province is to be managed by the state power utility, Electri­cite du Cambodge.

The announcement surprised En­­vironment Ministry officials and NGO representatives attending a workshop in Phnom Penh as well as villagers, who remain in the dark about resettlement and compensation measures in the Lower Sesan II dam project.

Work on the 400-megawatt dam in Sesan district is slated to be­­gin in October.

The River Coalition of Cambo­dia had invited Sesan district community representatives to meet with the government’s Inter-Ministerial Resettlement Committee and other participants at the workshop.

However, Chea Sopharin, a consultant for the IRC, turned up to inform participants that EdC would be handling the resettlement plan, which remains secret.

“The management of the resettlement plan has been transferred from the IRC to EdC,” Mr So­pha­rin, director of consulting group Green Goal, told the 200 participants in attendance.

IRC head Im Sotheara later confirmed Mr Sopharin’s statement but declined to comment further.

The dam’s reservoir will flood 30,000 hectares of forest and farmland and seven villages, forcing 5,000 villagers from their homes. It will wipe out local fisheries and thus affect another 30,000 villagers living upstream, according to a project assessment.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive di­rector of NGO Forum, said the three NGOs in the River Coali­tion had not been informed about the change until yesterday, ad­ding that it had been disappointing that the IRC had failed to join discussions.

Mr Sam Ath said it was “important to bring affected communities and the representatives of the Inter-Ministerial Committee …together.”

“The [dam] project can’t go ahead unless the resettlement plan is clear, discussed and settled…that is a key principle,” he said. “But unfortunately there was no [IRC] representative.”

Vietnamese state-owned electricity giant EVN will develop the $806-million Lower Sesan II dam—with the Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group taking a 49 percent stake. The dam would supply half of its power to Viet­nam, according to the government, while the rest would supply much-needed cheap power to Cambodia.

Despite the looming construction, various senior officials said they were unaware of the shift in responsibilities for the resettlement of villagers.

Environment Ministry Secre­tary of State Prach Sun attended the workshop, but he said that, as far as he knew, the unreleased resettlement plan “is under the committee’s charge.”

Praing Chulasa, director of EdC’s strategy and planning unit, said he was unaware that the EdC would be taking over the resettlement of the villagers.

“I have not been told,” he said.

Sesan district governor Bou Keo Sovann also said he knew no­thing about yesterday’s announcement.

Mr Sopharin, the consultant, said later that there had been no need for the IRC to inform other officials, NGOs or affected villagers about the change in re­sponsibilities, as “this was only the internal measure…there’s no use for a public announcement.”

He added that the resettlement plan had not been shared with anyone either because it was “not yet internally approved.”

Ame Trandem, Mekong coordinator for environmental group International Rivers, said that it was “a shame” that the IRC had been absent.

“Without informed information and close consultation, the dam’s resettlement plan remains questionable and is unlikely to serve the interests of the people who will be affected,” she said in an e-mail.

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