Cambodian Villagers Refuse to Leave Homes as Dam Testing Floods Sesan District

Villagers affected by the U.S. $781 million Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam project on Mekong River tributaries in northeastern Cambodia's Stung Treng province said on Monday that they will remain in their villages as the water level keeps rising during a test of the 400-megawatt project.

Officials previously warned locals that the area would be flooded when testing began on July 15, but scores of residents of Sesan district's Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas communes refused to move out and abandon land they have occupied for generations.

On the tenth day of the test on Monday, eight of 10 sluices were closed during the initial round of testing, pushing up the water level in the Sesan River to 66 meters (217 feet) at the dam site, they said.

The water level will reach a height of 67 meters (220 feet) at Sre Kor commune. In the meantime, the Sre Pork Bridge and a few roads in Kbal Rormeas, where the dam is located, are now flooded, villagers said.

Um Reth, a representative from Cambodia's Royal Group, which is part of the joint venture with China's Hydrolancang International Energy that has built the dam, told RFA's Khmer Service that Sre Kor and Kbal Rormeas will be flooded when the other two sluices are closed.

He also said that weather conditions are contributing to the elevated water level.

There are rain storms in the area, he said. The water level may be higher than anticipated. The Sre Pork Bridge shouldn't be inundated, but now it has already been flooded.

Futh Khoeun, a resident of Old Sre Kor village told RFA that those who have refused to leave the area remain in their homes there, although authorities have imposed some restrictions on people's movements in Sre Kor and Kbal Rormeas.

Authorities also have prevented some visitors from entering the area.

About 124 families in Sre Kor commune and 58 families in Kbal Rormeas commune have refused compensation plans offered by the government and the joint venture.

They say they do not want to move to a new location because it would be much more difficult for them to eke out a living and because they do not want to abandon their ancestors' tombs and the place they have called home for generations.

Hundreds of others have already accepted compensation offered to them and left the area near the dam's reservoir to resettle in new homes.

On July 5, the joint venture that built the dam said it would start testing the facilities from mid-July to mid-August, during which the water level of the river is projected to rise to 72 meters (236 feet).

Once it becomes operational in September, the Lower Sesan 2 will be the largest hydropower dam in Cambodia.

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