PHNOM PENH — Construction of a massive dam in southwestern Cambodia will not start until at least 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday, in an apparent effort to stop heavy opposition to the project that has focused criticism on him.
Hun Sen’s comments came a day after Spanish activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, who had campaigned against the dam, was deported for overstaying his visa.
“From now until 2018, there will be no permission to build [the dam],” said Hun Sen, whose mandate as prime minister ends in 2018. “Now I beg you to stop talking about it.”
Gonzalez-Davidson was a cofounder of nongovernmental group called Mother Nature, which has vocally opposed construction of the hydropower dam in southwestern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province. Cambodia has signed a deal to build the mega-dam with China’s state-owned Sinohydro, but both sides have said more studies were needed before any construction begins.
The project, one of several dams being built by Chinese companies in Cambodia, sparked strong disapproval from the political opposition and environmental groups.
In September, Gonzalez-Davidson led a protest that briefly blocked a government convoy from driving to the proposed site of the dam, in the Areng Valley of the Cardamom Mountains.
Environmental groups say the dam would destroy the natural habitat across a vast expanse of one of Southeast Asia’s last great wilderness areas, which contains some of Cambodia’s most profuse wildlife, including the world’s largest population of almost extinct Siamese crocodiles.
Gonzalez-Davidson’s visa expired Friday and the government refused to extend or renew it.
On Monday, Hun Sen publicly appealed to Gonzalez-Davidson to leave the country and he was deported Monday evening.
“His visa had expired and he refused to leave Cambodia as ordered from the ministry, therefore we had no choice but to deport him,” said Gen. Khieu Sopheak, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Without naming the activist, Hun Sen said Tuesday that foreigners should not give advice to Cambodia on forest conservation or the construction of dams.