Sesan loggers overstep bounds, say villagers

About 30 villagers from Srekor commune in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district yesterday confronted workers bulldozing their community’s land who they said worked for a company tasked with clearing the Lower Sesan II dam reservoir.

Srekor community representative Puth Thoeun yesterday said the villagers chased away drivers of four bulldozers who had cleared about 100 hectares of community forest near Srekor village in the past four days.

“The company cleaning up the reservoir came to bulldoze our community land,” said Thoeun, adding the village was about a kilometre from the 36,000-hectare reservoir, which will be flooded when the 400-megawatt hydropower dam, a joint venture between Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International, comes online this year. “They have not only come to clear the reservoir, but also destroy the forest beside the reservoir area.”

Thoeun also accused the company of laundering timber from border areas in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri through the site’s timber processing facilities, saying “50 to 60” trucks carried logs in and out per day.

He said the company, whose name he did not know but which was named in local media reports as Huot Meng Vita Co, “took the good wood” from the community’s forest and “burned the rest”.

“We do not know whether we will win over the company or not, but we will try our best to confront them,” he said.

Even before work began on the dam in early 2014, the project had been dogged by accusations of illegal logging.

Firms initially contracted to fell the site, including Royal Group subsidiary Ang & Associates and a company run by Sok Vanna, brother of Sokimex owner Sok Kong, had their logging concession cancelled in 2012 after they were accused of clearing community forests.

According to a report at the time, the halt was supposed to last until the reservoir was demarcated. Reached yesterday, Kith Meng said he was in China and hung up on a reporter.

Keo Sorithya, listed in Commerce Ministry filings as a chair-man of Ang & Associates, said he had “no information” about who was currently engaged to clear the reservoir, and referred questions to Thomas Pianka, chief operating officer of Royal Group’s Energy Division. Reached by phone, Pianka said he was travelling and hung up. Contact details for Huot Meng Vita could not be found.

Sesan district governor Ponleu Mongkol declined to discuss the case, other than saying he had sent a report to provincial governor Mom Saroeun, who declined to comment.

Source: Phnom Penh Post

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