Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet inaugurated four primary schools in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley on Monday, along with the head of a group known as the Cambodia Youth Movement 157, which donated the schools, a local official said on Tuesday.
Keo Nybora, deputy governor of Thma Baing district, said the schools christened by Lieutenant General Manet, head of the military’s anti-terrorism unit, and Moeung Ponlork, the movement’s leader, were welcomed by the area’s ethnic Chong community.
“I am very happy that the Cambodia Youth Movement 157 has developed and built primary schools in the Areng area,” Mr. Nybora said.
The deputy district governor dismissed past accusations by environmental activists that Mr. Ponlork’s group of self-described humanitarians was actually a CPP-aligned political organization.
“They can say whatever they want, but it is in the public interest for children to have a school where they can study,” he said.
Thma Baing district has been a center of protest for years, with locals and environmental activists demonstrating against a hydropower dam planned for the area. If the project goes ahead, hundreds of Chong families would be forced off their ancestral land.
Mr. Hun Sen has said that the dam project has been delayed until after the next national election in 2018, at the earliest.
Mr. Nybora admitted that if the dam was built, the recently donated schools would be underwater.
“All four buildings would be in the reservoir if they built the dam, but the government will not build it,” he said.
Mr. Ponlork said the donations—which he claimed totaled $110,000 and included repairs to nearby bridges—were not politically motivated, adding that he knew nothing about the proposed dam.
“I don’t know about that issue. We only just work on humanitarian issues,” he said.
Monday’s visit to the Areng Valley was not the first by Cambodia Youth Movement 157. In June, the group—many of whose members are middle-aged and wear all-black uniform—arrived in the valley to hand out packages of medicine, cloth and cash on behalf of Lt. Gen. Manet.
In Kongchet, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said that while he welcomed the new schools, he doubted Mr. Ponlork’s motives were altruistic.
“We know that the commune elections are coming up. That is why the ruling party wants to get support from villagers,” he said.
“In the past, villagers here have stood up in protest against the proposed hydropower dam project, and most of them dislike the CPP.”
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