By Ben Sokhean
Stung Treng, Cambodia, March 29, 2016
The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia on Sunday promised villagers in Stung Treng province who are set to be displaced by the construction of the Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam that she would raise their plight with the government, a village representative said.
Puth Khoeun, a representative for about 240 families who have rejected compensation offers for land they will lose to make way for the massive energy project, said Rhona Smith spent more than an hour hearing the grievances of 60 residents during a meeting in Sesan district’s Srekor commune.
“Ms. Rhona Smith said she came to find out whether the news that residents were to be forcibly evicted was true or not. This is the truth,” Mr. Khoeun said. “She wanted to know the concerns of the residents and then she will bring the concerns of the residents who are affected by the dam site to inform the government.”
Ms. Smith is over halfway through her second fact-finding mission to Cambodia, which is focused on the rights of women and indigenous people. Many of those affected by the controversial dam—which is being built by Chinese firm Hydrolancang International Energy together with local conglomerate Royal Group—are indigenous Bunong minorities.
“In our place we are happy. If we move to different places, we are concerned about disease and our children will face losing the chance to study,” Mr. Khoeun said. “Importantly, our residents will lose their ancestral land that our previous generations buried here if we decide to leave.”
Due to go online next year, the dam will block two key tributaries of the Mekong River—the Sesan and Srepok rivers—causing huge environmental damage and affecting communities living downstream, according to to experts.
Ms. Smith will today meet with provincial authorities to discuss the dam, said Meng Kung, spokesman for the provincial government.