Chong Villagers Put Festive Spin on Dam Protest

Villagers from an ethnic minority community in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley continued their blockade over the Khmer New Year holiday of an access road leading to the site of a proposed dam they say would destroy their way of life.

Members of the ethnic Chong community did not let their protest dampen the new year festivities, however, dancing and playing traditional games as they kept watch for workers from Chinese Sinohydro (Cambodia) United Ltd., which plans to start building the 108-megawatt Stung Chhay Areng dam in the coming months.

Heng Menghong, 21, a monk from the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, said 30 Chong people blocked the road in Russei Chrum commune’s Thmar Baing village on Tuesday evening.

“They took plastic buckets and pots to make noise for dancing, singing and playing traditional games during Khmer New Year,” he said. “They were afraid the Chinese firm would take the opportunity during the Khmer New Year to transport machinery to the dam site, so the Chong minority continued the roadblock…to monitor workers trying to reach the area.”

The villagers set up 15 temporary tents and guarded the road in shifts, Heng Menghong said.

The roadblocks by the Chong community began in March, when Sinohydro built a storage facility near the planned construction site, which can only be accessed by the dirt road. However, no date has been given for construction, which the community, along with NGOs in the area, fears will flood 20,000 hectares of land, including parts of the Cardamom Protected Forest that they consider sacred.

Keo Nybora, the deputy governor of Thmar Baing district, confirmed that a few villagers continued to keep watch on the road over the Khmer New Year holiday.

“The villagers can do whatever they want, but we are concerned that if they do it longer, it will affect their livelihoods and their health, because they are standing by in the forest,” Mr. Nybora said.

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