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Sesan villagers seek land titles

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
Villagers on a boat near their homes, which were flooded by the Sesan dam. KT/Mai Vireak

Families forced to relocate due to the construction of the Lower Sesan II Dam are asking Stung Treng provincial authorities to register their new village as indigenous collective lands.

The 67 families from Sre Ko commune received authorisation to set up the new village on their community forest and ancestral lands after their old homes were flooded in October when a gate to the controversial hydropower dam was closed.

They are now seeking indigenous collective land status to protect themselves from being displaced by future development.

Local resident Fort Kheun said villagers have received no input from the provincial authority since their relocation, while no officials have visited the site of their new community.

“To secure our land, we would like to ask the provincial authority to register it as indigenous collective lands,” he said. “That way it would be secure forever, because no one could sell it to a company or developers.”

Mr Kheun said villagers did not oppose government development projects, but wanted to remain living on their farmland with their ancestors’ spirits.

Seak Meknog, the former Sre Ko commune chief, said villagers have suffered as a result of the dam development so the authorities should grant their indigenous collective lands request.

“They did not ask for individual benefits, they just want to protect their land,” he said.

Men Kong, a spokesman for the Stung Treng provincial authority, said his officials had visited villagers at the end of last year.

“We did not get any official request from them yet, we only heard about what they want from the news,” he said.

He added that the families who moved to the new village were those that refused alternative homes offered to them by the dam development company.

“We tried to solve their problems and have agreed to their requests,” he said.

Kim Sambath, a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, last year said there were 124 indigenous communities recognised by the Ministry of Rural Development and 111 communities recognised as legal entities by the Ministry of the Interior, but only 18 communities had received collective land titles from the Land Ministry.

Construction of the Lower Sesan II Dam is scheduled to be completed in 2019 at a total estimated cost of $816 million.

Three companies are involved in the dam: Cambodia’s Royal Group owns 39 percent, China’s Hydrolancing International Energy has a 51 percent stake and Vietnam’s EVN International owns 10 percent.

When it is complete it will generate 400 megawatts of power.

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