Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday promised his visiting counterpart from Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, to speed up approval for a controversial hydropower dam in Stung Treng province, according to Information Minister Khieu Kanharith.
“Vietnam asked Cambodia to push the paperwork forward for the Sesan II hydropower dam,” Mr Kanharith told reporters after a one-hour meeting between the two prime ministers at Mr Hun Sen’s office building. “Samdech asked Suy Sem to move the forms forward,” Mr Kanharith said, referring to the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy.
According to an impact assessment of the Lower Sesan II Dam, the 400-megawatt, $816 million project will displace more than 1,000 families to clear the way for a reservoir expected to flood 30,000 hectares, one third of it farmland.
In mid-2009, officials at the project’s developer, Electricite du Vietnam, said they were expecting approval within months, but the government said more impact studies were needed.
Nongovernment groups, meanwhile, have faulted the government for the lack of information it has shared about the project and have raised fears that the dam would severely diminish fish stocks for thousands of families living along the river.
Yesterday, NGOs were reluctant to comment on the premier’s pledge to speed up the project. However, Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, said his group had the same concerns as before.
“We would like to see the impact assessment done in a participatory process,” he said.
“We are concerned about the impact on the river…especially for the fisheries,” said Tep Bunharith, the director of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association.
Also on the topic of energy, the information minister said that Mr Hun Sen had asked the Vietnamese premier to increase his country’s electricity supply to Phnom Penh from 120 megawatts to 170 megawatts by December. The current agreement between the neighbors calls for 200 megawatts.
Experts often cite high electricity prices as a key obstacle to development in Cambodia. Every year, short supplies also lead to intermittent blackouts in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in the hottest months.
“This is the only request the prime minister made,” Mr Kanharith said. “Nguyen Tan Dung said there was less rain in Vietnam this year, leading to less electricity production. Vietnam will, however, try to provide the electricity.”
Mr Kanharith said the Vietnamese premier thanked Cambodia for its help in retrieving the remains of Vietnamese soldiers, pledged to speed up border demarcation and asked for more help in facilitation Vietnamese investment.
Mr Tan Dung specifically thanked Mr Hun Sun for allowing an unspecified oil and gas firm to explore in Cambodia.
Contacted afterward for details, Mr Kanharith referred the questions to the Energy Ministry.
Mr Sem, however, said he could recall no details about the agreement.
During his one-day visit to Cambodia, Mr Tan Dung also met with King Norodom Sihamoni and paid visits to the Senate and National Assembly.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)