At least 10 ethnic Phnorng villagers protested on Monday in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province to demand an end to a sand-dredging operation carried out in a wildlife sanctuary in the Bou Sra commune of the province’s Pech Chreada district, local sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Nov. 26, Sraing Soeun—a resident of Bou Sra’s Pou Toeut village—said that villagers had earlier seized dredging machines used in the operation, which they said had been launched in secret and was still unlicensed.
The project’s owner had already blocked the upper end of the stream being dredged, reducing the village’s daily fish supply and interfering with local religious practice in the forest, Sraing Soeun said.
“This is affecting the community’s forest, preventing us from holding religious services,” Sraing Soeun said, adding that the dredging is being carried out within the boundaries of a protected zone, the Phnom Naim Lea wildlife sanctuary.
“Nowadays, authorities won’t protect the community or our natural resources. Instead, they try to destroy them,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, another Phnorng villager, Kreung Tola, said that villagers had seized the operation’s dredging equipment in order to demand that the project be suspended, as local residents had never been consulted before it was launched.
“We request that the dredging be suspended because the project has no documentation,” he said.
“We are also asking that commune and district authorities not join hands with [the business owner], and that they help us, the villagers, instead.”
“The residents are getting poorer and poorer, while the project owner is getting more and more rich,” he said.
Calls seeking comment from the reported business owner, a provincial official of Cambodia’s Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations named Nak Ven, rang unanswered on Monday.
Bou Sra commune chief Yeut Sarien was also unavailable for comment on Monday.
Promise to inspect
Speaking to RFA, Ty Sophal—an official of the Mondulkiri provincial office of Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy—said that he had only just received news of the dredging operation and would send colleagues to inspect the dredging site.
“In the past, area residents used to dredge sand at that same location to build their homes, but now I’ve heard that machinery is being used, so I will inspect the area in question,” he said.
Authorities should consult with the local community and provide them with clear information before authorizing projects of this kind in the area, local coordinator for the rights group ADHOC Eang Mengly said.
“This strongly affects ethnic minority residents, since they depend on the use of local water resources,” he said.
“And if chemicals or gasoline are used in these sand dredging activities, this will affect water conditions and may cause residents to face health concerns and other issues."
Dredging operations in Cambodia have sparked frequent protests, with environmental activists working to expose irregularities in Cambodia’s trade in dredged sand with foreign countries and helping villagers organize to protect their land.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.