The last families refusing to relocate from two communes near the Lower Sesan II dam are considering asking the authorities to establish a new village on ancestral lands close to their original homes as flood waters in the area continue to rise.
Fort Kheun, one of the Sre Ko commune villagers who has been fighting to stay in the old village, said floods had submerged his home up to the roof.
He said villagers are constructing temporary huts on their ancestral farmland and community forest, which is situated on higher ground. If the floods continue, locals will ask if they can stay there permanently.
“We have to consider what to do about infrastructure, such as the school and pagoda. This does not mean that we accept the company’s compensation, but if we cannot live in the old village, we will live here, because we love our ancestors’ spirit area,” he said.
“For my point of view, I would like to go back to live in the old village, but I think we won’t be able to, so we need a plan to establish a new village,” he added.
Another villager, Fort Khorn, 35, said he does not want to move to the location offered by the company, but he would be happy to live in the community forest, because it is still close to the river, where he can catch fish and plant rice to support his family.
“We want to stay in our ancestors’ spirit area. I am not sure the authorities will allow us, but I will fight until the end to live there,” he said.
Rot Mao, an indigenous resident of Kbal Rommeas commune, said most families from his village had moved to higher ground due to floods, but about five were holding out, since their homes were not totally inundated.
“We will ask the authorities and company to allow us to live at Toul Sreveng, which is our ancestors’ spirit area. We will not live in the place that the company has offered us,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen visited the Lower Sesan II dam area in September and ordered the construction company and provincial authorities to prepare money and houses for families in Sre Ko and Kbal Romeas communes who refused to accept the compensation to move to relocation sites.
According to a letter from Stung Treng Governor Mom Saroeun on October 11, the government and the company would provide options for people wanting to move to a new location near their old villages.
Om Reth, a representative of the Lower Sesan II dam company, said the firm had already built new homes and prepared money for villagers.
They could come and collect the compensation anytime if they agreed, he said.
“I have no idea about their request to live near their old village. Maybe the provincial authority can make a decision on that,” he added.
Under the existing compensation policy, the company will provide those who accept with rice and gasoline for one year, as well as five hectares of land for agriculture.
Stung Treng spokesman Men Kong said the authority would look into the possibility of allowing villagers to live on their ancestral farmlands.
“We will study how to provide compensation to them,” he said. “They will not be able to go back to live on their old village because it will be flooded forever.”