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Cambodia deports activist leader…then suspends controversial dam

On Monday, Cambodia deported well-known environmental activist, Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, back to his native Spain. Co-founder of the Cambodian NGO, Mother Nature, Gonzalez-Davidson has played a vital role in blocking efforts to build the 108 megawatt Cheay Areng Dam in the Koh Kong province. But a day after deporting the activist, Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, said the country would postpone the dam until after the next elections in 2018.

“From now until 2018, there will be no permission to build [the dam],” he said. “Now I beg you to stop talking about it.”

Officials said that they deported Gonzalez-Davidson because he and his group blocked a road to prevent a government convoy from reaching the proposed dam site. After his visa ran out, the country refused to renew it. However, local news reported that orders for Gonzalez-Davidson’s deportation came directly from the Prime Minister.

Gonzalez-Davidson has lived in Cambodia for 12 years and has stated in the past that he considers himself a native now.

The Cheay Areng Dam, which would be built by Chinese company Sinohydro Resources, has become hugely controversial due to its expected impacts on both the environment and locals. The dam would flood at least 10,500 hectares and displace some 1,500 people. Locals, including indigenous groups, would then be resettled in the Central Cardamom Protected Forest, a major protected area home to Asian elephants, a major population of Critically Endangered siamese crocodiles, and thousands of other species.

Hun Sen, yesterday, admitted that dam would have massive environmental impacts.

“If we lost 20,000 hectares of forest, it would be a disaster and that area is the elephant crossing spot. If we do decide to develop, our sea over there will not be blue anymore, it turns to red sea, because when they’re digging the land, it will float into the sea,” Hun Sen said.

He also joked that if Areng attempted to become an autonomous region due to the proposed dam, they would be met with rockets.

“If you want to make an autonomous zone, please come, and we will put BM21 [rocket launchers] in that area,” Hun Sen said, adding, “but I don’t accuse them seriously like that.”

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