PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia's prime minister defended his government's energy policy on Wednesday and hit back at environmentalists opposed to hydropower plants by suggesting their electricity be cut off and they should use resin torches instead. Cambodia depends heavily on imported fuel and power to meet its rising energy demand, with costs per unit among the most expensive in Southeast Asia and a common source of complaint from foreign investors. Construction of Chinese-funded hydropower projects, which first started a decade ago in Cambodia, have raised alarm about the impact on endangered species, fish stocks and the communities that live off the rivers. Inaugurating a $540 million, 246-megawatt hydropower dam in Koh Kong province on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledged some of the concerns, like flooding of forested land, but said Cambodia had no choice. "We have to pay the price," Hun Sen said in a speech, adding the government was seeking more Chinese loans to expand power grids. Cambodia plans to build 14 hydro dams to be operational by 2020. An environmental group, NGO Forum on Cambodia, in a report said those already built had caused deforestation and hit water resources such as fisheries. Hun Sen said six of seven hydro dams built so far were operational and were benefiting tens of thousands of households. He dismissed critics as "extremists" who were opposed to anything. "We can make resin torches for environmental extremists to use and cut off electricity from their homes," he said. Russia and Cambodia signed an energy cooperation agreement last month during a visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in which Moscow will provide expertise, research and training on nuclear power. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)
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