Cambodia: Sesan locals win right to stay

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Villagers were forced to leave their homes after extensive flooding caused by the controversial Lower Sesan II dam.
Villagers were forced to leave their homes after extensive flooding caused by the controversial Lower Sesan II dam. KT/Mai Vireak

Local authorities have agreed to allow the last families refusing to relocate from their homes near the Lower Sesan II dam to establish a new village on their community forest and ancestral lands.

The remaining 76 families from Sre Ko and Kbal Romeas communes decided to move to their community forest and ancestral lands in October, after their villages flooded when the gates of the hydropower dam were closed.

Stung Treng provincial authority spokesman Men Kong said local officials had visited the villagers at their new homes and designated a health centre for them, meaning they can continue to live there.

“They would not live in the place where we offered to relocate them, so we agreed to let them live on their community forest and ancestral lands,” he said.

He added the authorities will now conduct an investigation into how villagers were affected by floods to provide them with fair compensation.

“Even if they are going to live on their farmland, our policy is still to provide them with fair compensation,” Mr Kong said.

“We try our best to serve the public and do not want developments to harm them. We want both parties to profit from development projects.”

Almost eighty families refused to leave their ancestral lands.
Almost eighty families refused to leave their ancestral lands. KT/Mai Vireak

Resident Fort Kheun said locals were happy to accept the authorities’ endorsement of their new village.

“It’s what we wanted, so we are very happy. We can continue to live with our ancestors’ spirits. We hope the authorities will not cheat us,” he said.

Mr Kheun said people in the village never wanted to oppose the government’s development, but could not agree to leave their homeland.

The problems should be finished now that they have been allowed to live in the place of their choice, he added.

Brach Rith, a resident of Kbal Romeas commune, said villagers insisted on staying where they were because they could not abandon their culture, traditions, forests and ancestral land.

“We are indigenous people. We could not abandon our ancestors. Now we are so happy that authorities have allowed us to live on our farmland,” he said.

Former Sre Ko commune chief Seak Meknog said the authorities were right to allow villagers to live on their community forest and ancestral lands.

“They were victims of that project, so it is good for the authorities to make them happy and get the benefits of the development, too,” he said.

Construction of the dam is scheduled to be completed in 2019 at a total estimated cost of $816 million. Three companies are involved in the dam: Cambodia’s Royal Group owns 39 percent, China’s Hydrolancing International Energy has a 51 percent stake and Vietnam’s EVN International owns 10 percent.

When complete it will generate 400 megawatts of power, which will supply Stung Treng, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Preah Vihear, and Ratanakkiri provinces with electricity, ending their dependence on electricity from Laos.

Source: Khmer Times

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