Dozens of villagers in a western Cambodian province blocked a dirt road on Monday to prevent a sand-dredging company’s trucks from accessing the area and asked the local government to stop the company’s activities to prevent the further collapse of a riverbank, according to villagers.
About 70 of the 100 villagers who protested the company’s sand-dredging activities in Banan district of Battambang province erected blockades in the road and formed a line to prevent the trucks from entering the area.
They wanted to stop the negative impact of sand dredging which had caused the bank of a local stream from where they got fresh water to collapse, they said.
They also said they could not cultivate their farmland because of the sand dredging.
One villager from Thmei village in the district’s Kantueu Muoy commune, who refused to be named, said the company had started dredging in the village about 20 days ago.
Villagers had filed a complaint with police, but officers ignored it, he said.
Banan district deputy governor Chhum Ngor said the sand-dredging company was a small-scale business that had received permission from the government to operate.
He denied that the company had a negative impact on local villagers.
“The company’s owner comes from the same district, and they don’t make much money,” he said.
Heng Sayhong, the provincial coordinator of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said the relevant authorities must investigate the impact of sand dredging in the area.
“The authorities must resolve the villagers’ concerns,” he said.
After the protest, local police promised the villagers that authorities would not allow the company’s trucks to use the dirt road, but added that they could not stop the company’s activities.
In response, the villagers threatened to renew their protest.
Sand dredging in Pursat province
Villagers in Pursat province in western Cambodia, which borders Battambang province to the south, said there were at least five sand-dredging companies operating day and night in their area.
They said the companies started dredging there about three years ago, and expressed concerns about their health and the environment because of the amount of dust in the air from trucks transporting sand.
A resident of Eam Phal village from the province’s Lolok Sar district said the trucks also had destroyed the road and caused more accidents during the rainy reason.
“We had reported to local authorities that this was a serious problem,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service. “The trucks are making the road dusty. Our children are having lung issues. Senior citizens have a hard time eating food.”
Srey Saven, a noodle vendor, urged authorities to take action to stop the sand-dredging companies from creating so much dust so she would not be forced to shut down her business.
“It is so dusty,” she said. “I want local authorities to resolve the dusty roads [issue]. They should water the roads [to keep the dust down].”
Seng Bunphal, director of the province’s Mines and Energy Department, said 24 companies were dredging sand from the stream that runs through the province, but only 19 of them had had their operating licenses renewed.
He vowed to investigate overloaded trucks and dusty roads.
“We are working to fix the roads,” he said.
Around 20 companies have licenses allowing them to legally dredge in the country, but their permits will expire in December, according to Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy.
The ministry started issuing sand-dredging licenses in 2006, although many companies operate illegally without them.
Last month, the ministry said it would not renew operating licenses for dredging companies with expired permits until the completion of an industry-wide impact study, and urged operators to wait between three and six months for the end of the assessment.
The ministry said that in the past it had only conducted environmental and social impact studies in specific cases where companies had requested to dredge, but is currently conducting an industry-wide assessment to ensure all companies operate sustainably.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.