Villagers in Svay Rieng Angry Over Planned Canal

More than 200 villagers from three communes in Svay Rieng province on Saturday protested against a proposal to build a huge irrigation canal through their land, a local official said Sunday.

The planned canal would stretch across Kraol Kor, Svay Yea and Chhoeuteal communes in Svay Chrum district, and would cut directly through the land of approximately 100 families, district governor Soth Kimchan said.

Mr. Kimchan said that more than 200 villagers had attended a meeting about the canal on Saturday but staged an on-the-spot protest against the plans.

“We held the forum to collect opinions from villagers about whether they wanted to get water resources for rice cultivation, but they opposed the plan and walked away from the meeting,” he said.

Mr. Kimchan said he believed only about 100 families would be affected, and said he had asked village chiefs in the area to survey residents and find out how many of them wanted the canal and how many opposed it. He said the canal project was being spearheaded by the Ministry of Water Resources.

“We will make a report to the national level after collecting the thumbprints from villagers,” he said.

He declined to provide details on the length or width of the canal.

Mom Lida, provincial investigator for rights group Licadho, said the proposed project is, in fact, a massive waterway that would be constructed by a Chinese company that signed a contract with Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor in 2010.

“This large canal will affect the villagers’ rice fields totally, because, as I have heard, the government is going to build it about 70 meters wide, not including the concrete levee and plateau of the canal,” he said.

Mr. Lida said he expected many more than 100 families to lose farmland to the canal. Mr. Kean Hor could not be reached for comment.

Sun Sophal, one of the affected villagers, said she would likely lose at least some of her one-hectare rice field to the canal, and questioned why authorities did not simply renovate a Khmer Rouge-era canal in the area.

“We will not agree with this new project,” she said.

“We do not oppose the government’s development plan, but we want authorities to rehabilitate the old canal, because this project will cause many families to lose their rice fields,” she added.

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