Cambodian villagers from a province in the central lowlands along the Mekong River asked the government on Friday to monitor an international port under its supervision in the country’s capital, arguing that the facility has not complied with government guidelines on sand dredging, according to residents.
Villagers from Srey Santhor district in Kampong Cham province who live along the river, say operators of the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port are dredging sand outside boundaries set by the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
They are concerned that river banks will collapse if the port continues to dredge sand close to areas where the villagers live.
Villager Seng Ly said the port has allowed five to 10 boats to dredge sand outside the designated area for about a month.
“Villagers asked the port to investigate the workers who are dredging sand,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “The sand dredging is not right.”
Som Sophal, deputy chief of the district’s Mean Chey commune said he had met with port officials in May to discuss villagers’ concerns, but they told him that they started taking sand from a different site because the sand in the designated dredging areas was no good.
Although he had asked workers to stop dredging sand outside the designated areas, they continued to do so, he said.
“My villages are very concerned [and] have filed complaints” against the sand dredging, he said.
A port official named Keo La said he stopped dredging a few days ago and insisted he had not removed sand from areas outside the designated zone.
“I was doing more monitoring [than dredging],” he told RFA. “We never take sand from outside the designated areas.”
Complaints are ignored
Deb Bunhong, chief of Mean Chey commune, said he had reported the dredging in areas outside the zone to port authorities many times, but they had always ignored his complaints.
“Provincial authorities told me that the ministry would investigate the boats [doing the dredging],” he said. “Although I have already reported it to the district and province, the port continues to dredge sand.”
The Ministry of Mines and Energy said it had issued a license to the port to dredge sand in the area, which has become too shallow for ships to navigate.
Dith Tina, the ministry’s secretary of state, told RFA that he had not yet received any information about the villagers’ concerns, though he said his office would take action on the matter.
He urged villagers to report their concerns directly to the ministry through telephone hotline number 727.
About 20 companies in Cambodia have licenses allowing them to legally dredge in the country, though their permits will expire in December, according to the ministry.
The ministry began to issue sand-dredging licenses in 2006, but many companies operate illegally without them.
In April, the ministry said it would not renew operating licenses for dredging companies with expired permits until the completion of an industry-wide impact study to ensure all companies operate sustainably, and urged operators to wait between three and six months for the end of the assessment.
Reported by Saut Sok Pratna for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.