Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that work on a controversial mega-dam project in southwest Cambodia will not start until at least 2018.
“From now until 2018, there will be no permission to build (the dam). Now I beg you to stop talking about it,” said Hun Sen.
Hun Sen’s announcement came one day after outspoken Spanish activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson was deported from Cambodia for overstaying his visa. Gonzalez-Davidson is co-founder of NGO Mother Nature which vocally campaigned against the dam project in Koh Kong province.
The anti-dam campaigner’s visa expired Friday and he was deported Monday after he refused an order from Hun Sen to leave the country.
A text purported to be from Gonzalez-Davidson sent Monday night said: “In the plane now, ready to take off. Free flight to Madrid, courtesy of the kingdom of wonder.”
Deportation of foreigners for overstaying their visa in Cambodia is rare, as the Cambodia Daily reports:
The last known high-profile case of the government deporting a foreigner over an expired visa was in 2005, when the U.K.-based environmental watchdog Global Witness was expelled from the country over its reports of police and military complicity in the country’s rampant illegal logging trade. A government report at the time accused the group of calumny.
A number of high-profile dam projects have received international attention in Cambodia in recent years amid accusations of inadequate environmental impact assessments and land grabs.
The Koh Kong project, one of a number of dams being built by Chinese companies in Cambodia, would destroy a vast area of wilderness and threaten wildlife such as the almost extinct Cambodian crocodile, according to environmental protection groups.
A group of prominent Cambodian NGOs issued a joint statement in support of Gonzalez-Davidson last week, condemning the use of visa denial to curb activism.
“The government’s decision to deny Mr Gonzalez-Davidson a visa renewal is a perfect example of the government’s sustained attempt to quash grassroots advocacy, silence dissent, and ensure an environment where the government can operate with immunity from independent criticism,” said Naly Pilorge, LICADHO director.
Whether Tuesday’s statement from Hun Sen can be seen as a victory for Gonzalez-Davidson and other anti-dam activists remains to be seen. China wields strong influence in Cambodia and may not take kindly to the postponement of another dam project in the region.
China has turned to its Southeast Asian neighbors, particularly the Mekong nations, to help service its growing need for electricity.