Waters Rising in Sesan Dam Villages as Holdouts Sit Tight

Rescuers armed with speed boats and emergency supplies have been deployed to two Stung Treng province villages where residents remain despite expected flooding as the country’s largest hydropower dam undergoes testing.

By on Monday, the Sesan River had risen 3 meters since the 400 megawatt dam’s closure on Saturday, provincial government spokesman Men Kong said.

As the $800 million Lower Sesan II dam closed for initial testing, groups of about 20 military police and police from across the province were sent to Sesan district’s Srekor and Kbal Romeas villages to rescue holdouts, Mr. Kong said.

“The water level of the Sesan River stood at 61 meters today, but the Srekor and Kbal Romeas villages have not yet flooded,” Mr. Kong said on Monday.

“We are not worried because our provincial authorities have already prepared forces and fast boats to rescue the people to the safe hills when they get flooded in the next few days,” he said.

The remaining families, largely from indigenous ethnic minorities, have refused to move to the hill relocation site, reluctant to give up their ancestral lands and fearful of losing their traditional lifestyles and livelihoods.

Authorities estimated last week that the holdouts numbered about 120 families, while villagers said about 180 remained.

The rescue groups had emergency supplies including medicine and water, Mr. Kong said, although he did not know how many groups had been sent to each village.

Suth Thoeun, a villager set on remaining in Srekor village, said that while he was watching the water levels rise rapidly on the river, the rescuers were unlikely to be useful. Floods would only move his community if the village was entirely inundated, he said.

“They will leave only if the roofs of their homes are flooded,” he said.

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