Don Sahong Protest Cruise Thwarted by City Hall

Plans for a protest cruise on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh to highlight concerns over Laos’ Don Sahong hydropower dam were scrapped on Thursday after City Hall ordered the organizers to remain on land.

The planned protest, advertised to the media as “a publicity stunt on a boat next to the Titanic dock” in Daun Penh district, was co-organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Cambodia and the River Coalition in Cambodia (RCC). The groups had gathered signatures of 255,596 people who are opposed to the construction of the dam by Malaysian company Mega First, as it would affect communities and fish stocks downriver.

A monk holds a cardboard cut-out of a fish during a demonstration on Thursday in Phnom Penh against the construction of the Don Sahong dam in Laos. (Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)
A monk holds a cardboard cut-out of a fish during a demonstration on Thursday in Phnom Penh against the construction of the Don Sahong dam in Laos. (Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)

But the boat never left the dock.

About 30 protesters, including youth activists and monks, stood onboard the docked vessel where they held up posters and cutouts of fish and freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. Banners hanging from the boat’s rooftop deck called for Mega First to acknowledge its responsibilities and cease construction of the dam.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said municipal officials had ordered WWF Cambodia and RCC to scrap their plans to cruise up and down the river Thursday morning. Mr. Dimanche did not say how the organizers were informed of City Hall’s decisions, and declined to comment further.

“City Hall held a meeting and decided not to allow them to [protest]. So, when they want to [protest], they can do it inside their offices,” Daun Penh district governor Kouch Chamroeun said.

Despite City Hall’s interference, WWF Cambodia communications manager Asnarith Tep said the protest had been “successful,” but also declined to explain how the organization had been informed of City Hall’s order not to leave the riverbank.

WWF Cambodia executive director Chhith Sam Ath said Thursday that the Don Sahong dam would have a devastating effect on the Lower Mekong region.

“When there is no fish, there is no dolphin. When there is no dolphin, there is no tourism. When there is no tourism, there is no income. All these circles will affect the livelihoods of 60 million people,” he said.

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