Government Brands Villagers ‘Secessionist’ After Srekor Office Denial

The Stung Treng provincial government on Monday accused villagers whose homes are expected to be flooded by the Lower Sesan II dam of being secessionists after they rejected a request by authorities to set up an office at their pagoda.

Provincial authorities visited Srekor village in Sesan district on Saturday to ask about establishing the office ahead of flooding expected when the dam closes its gates next month.

Between Srekor and nearby Kbal Romeas village, about 120 families have refused to move to relocation sites prepared by the government and the dam’s developers.

“The pagoda is a place for the people in Srekor village to respect their religion,” said Sut Thoeun, a villager who rejected the idea. “We think that the authorities and the company are planning to put their armed forces there to put pressure on the people living in Srekor village” to leave.

Mr. Thoeun said villagers had also been stopped by armed authorities in past weeks in an effort to intimidate them to leave.

“The people are living under threat from the authorities. We did not allow them to deploy [officials] to the village because they are always disturbing the people,” he said. “We will not leave even if the village is seriously flooded in the future.”

Deputy provincial governor Duong Pov said the goal of the office would be to continue to offer compensation to villagers.

“We are still open to them in case they agree to leave, and they can get compensation,” he said.

On September 25, Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to visit the dam for its inauguration, at which point the 10 floodgates will be gradually closed throughout the day, Mr. Pov said.

At that point, villagers will no longer be eligible for compensation, he said without explaining why Kbal Romeas had not also been targeted.

Mr. Pov added that officials would move forward with plans to set up in the pagoda even though the villages had rejected it. “This would be a secessionist action if those people did not allow our working group to travel to the area, because they want to create a state within a state—against the government.”

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