Interview: 'We Didn’t Want the Ministry to Collude with the Companies to Destroy the Evidence'

cambo-sand-05022017.jpg An ASKL Company sand dredging operation in Stung Hav District, Preah Sihanouk province, February 8, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Mother Nature.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, director of the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia, was expelled from Cambodia in February 2015 and placed on a black list that prevents his return to the country. The Khmer-speaking Spanish environmentalist, who drew the government's ire by leading a campaign against a controversial dam project, spoke to Sel San of RFA's Khmer Service about evidence that sand dredging is still going on despite a government ban.

RFA:  It’s been a while since you have been away from Cambodia. Do you miss Cambodia?

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson: Yes, I do. I have been finding ways to return to Cambodia. However, the current circumstance is not easy me to return.

RFA:  You have stated that sand is still being exported although the government has banned it. What evidence do you have to prove your claim?

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson: We have ample evidence. After receiving information from the local villagers of sand dredging activities, four Mother Nature activists took the boat with some villagers to the sites. They have taken some pictures of the sand dredging operation.

RFA:  The government has accused Mother Nature of failing to cooperate with the Ministry of Mines and Energy to address this issue. The ministry has accused your group of creating problems rather offering to help solve them. Is that correct?

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson: No, it isn’t. We have always availed ourselves for such cooperation since mid-2015 but all to no avail. Unfortunately we have been retaliated against for our work. The activists of Mother Nature have been prosecuted. An arrest warrant was also issued for me by the Koh Kong court. I therefore don’t think there is a need for us to cooperate with the ministry anymore. What we need to do now is collect information on our own and publish it on social media to put pressure on the government. We are not creating problems. We are finding solutions to the problems. We note that the government and ministries concerned are incapable of curbing sand export.

RFA:  The Ministry of Mines and Energy has indicated that the ban on sand exports is not a blanket order. In other words, sand which is the raw material for making glass is allowed for expert. What kind of sand is being exported now?

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson: Well, it’s the ministry’s new excuse. The government ministries have manipulated the public since November 2016. It’s a complete lie that the ban is not a blanket order. I recall the ministry has stated that the export of all kinds of sand is banned. The sand that is being dredged now is for landfill and construction purposes. It is not for making glass. The reason we didn’t inform the ministry before we made a public statement about the sand dredging activities was that we didn’t want the ministry to collude with the companies to destroy the evidence.

Translated by Nareth Muong.

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