09/16/2014, 00.00
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Protest over Sino-Cambodian dam: Phnom Penh arrests 11 activists

They blocked a group of officials, including Chinese engineers, from visiting the site in for the proposed mega-dam. The police deny the arrest and speak of "invitation" for interrogation. Over the weekend monks and farmers held a hunger strike in front of the Chinese Embassy, dispersed by the authorities.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Phnom Penh authorities have arrested 11 environmentalists, for having prevented a group of officials visiting a town in the southwestern province of Koh Kong, where a Sino-Cambodian dam is being planned. The arrest took place yesterday and involved the president of Mother Nature Cambodia, Alejandro Gonzalez Davidson, a well-known environmental activist. They blocked the provincial governor Phon Lyvirak and a group of Chinese experts from Sinohydro Corp from arriving at the planned site for the Chhay Areng dam.

Koh Kong police chief, Sam Kitviet,  told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the 11 were "invited" for questioning, denying that they were an arrested. So far the authorities have released only Gonzalez, a Spanish citizen, while 10 others remain in custody.

The farmers wanted to prevent officials of the Chinese giant Sinohydro Corp - the company building the world's largest hydro power plants - from reaching the construction site, to assess the environmental impact of the facility. In fact, they do not believe that the study will be fair or impartial, but instead favor the economic interests and industrialists.

Environmentalists claim the dam will wipe out the local culture and biodiversity in the Areng Valley; the 108 megawatt dam will have a "very high" cost in terms of investment and its environmental impact. The survival of the Chong minority, whose territories will be inundated by the waters, is also at risk. This is why they say they will fight and to continue to do so in the future, risking "intimidation or arrest."

Last weekend a group of farmers and monks launched a hunger strike in front of the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh to protest against the construction of the dam. However, the authorities - Cambodia is China's most faithful ally in Southeast Asia - immediately intervened to disperse the crowd. Ly Chan Neng, a monk and activist, confirms the concern of the villagers for the possible destruction of the ecosystem of Areng Valley, a real treasure of environmental harmony and natural diversity.


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