UN Officials Blocked From Villages Facing Threat of Flood

Authorities on Tuesday turned back U.N. human rights monitors heading toward a village expected to sink underwater as a new hydroelectric dam tested its floodgates, officials said.

Two villages in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district—Srekor and Kbal Romeas—are expected to face imminent flooding as the Lower Sesan II dam’s ten floodgates have been progressively closed this month.

Shelters for families displaced by flooding caused by Lower Sesan II dam tests earlier this month (Zsombor Peter/The Cambodia Daily)

Men Kong, spokesman for the provincial government, said Srekor would be flooded first, and rising waters had already “reached the foot of the village.”

The water’s depth at a baseline measuring station stood at 67.39 meters. At 68 meters, Srekor would begin to flood, Mr. Kong said. At 72 meters, the situation was expected to turn serious.

But Sarun Sokhom, a Srekor villager, said she was unconcerned by the water’s approach. The riverside village flooded every rainy season, and its inhabitants were used to evacuating, she said. When the floodwaters arrived, villagers would simply take to the hills, Ms. Sokhom said.

While most of about 5,000 people living in the surrounding area have reluctantly left their homes to nearby relocation sites, about 120 families in the two villages have defiantly stayed in the face of the threat.

Authorities in the area have previously said they have prepared rescue boats in preparation for the expected flooding. On Tuesday, they turned away visitors to Kbal Romeas, where a traditional ceremony was being held to call upon ancestral spirits for support.

“Kbal Romeas is an insecure area,” Mr. Kong said. “We must stop people from traveling to the insecure village because our authorities will be held responsible for problems that happen.”

Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Asia, said a monitoring team from the office had been denied access.

“The local police informed them and all others who wanted to access the area that it was too dangerous considering the accelerated increase in the water level due to the ongoing heavy rains combined with the closed dam gates,” he said in an email, without elaborating on the exact aim of the trip.

Choeun Sreymom, a member of the Bunong ethnic minority in Kbal Romeas, said about 20 police had also blocked dozens of locals and supporters from Ratanakkiri province.

“The police’s activity is not fair,” she said. “They are authorities to protect people, but they blocked the freedom of the people.” Despite their prayers, however, Ms. Sreymom said members of the community were set to begin moving their belongings to shelters on higher ground. In the meantime, they had been constructing bamboo rafts to lift their houses and turn them into floating homes, she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Lower Sesan II dam has nine floodgates.

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