A group of activists and villagers from southwestern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province petitioned outside the country’s parliament Thursday, calling on lawmakers to intervene against a sand dredging company they say is operating in the area without a license.
The group gathered outside of the National Assembly building in the capital Phnom Penh and demanded that the legislature ban International Renbow Cambodia from dredging they claim is affecting natural resources and living standards in Koh Kong.
Villagers told RFA’s Khmer Service that around 340 families in Koh Kong’s Koh Kapek have been affected by the dredging as International Renbow removes sand from a nearby sea inlet and destroys equipment used for fishing—which residents rely on to make a living.
A villager representative from Koh Kapek named Hak Pito said International Renbow was not complying with dredging regulations by dredging sand at locations beyond what was specified in its license, which he said was also out of date.
“The license expired two months ago,” he said.
Another villager representative named Ek Sophal said International Renbow had been dredging sand to sell in Singapore since 2000 and had seriously affected the area.
She said that since April 11, villagers had stopped 12 boats from shipping the sand dredged by the company, and would continue to do so whether the government put a stop to its operations or not.
“Regardless of whether the company has or doesn't have a license, as a human being, I ask the company to stop because it is affecting our daily lives,” she said.
“I will continue to do what I can to stop the sand dredging.”
Khim Chanserewath, an official with nongovernmental organization Mother Nature Cambodia, said area youth had pledged to join with villagers in protecting the local environment against sand dredging companies.
An official from International Renbow, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity, said his company’s sand dredging license was “still valid.”
Representatives from both the National Assembly and the Ministry of Mines and Energy accepted petitions from the group Thursday.
Keo Tuot, director of the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s Information Department pledged to forward the petition to ministry leadership for further consideration.
“I am handing over the petitions to the ministry to take additional measures,” he said, without specifying what actions it might take.
On Tuesday, Mother Nature Cambodia and young Cambodians opposed to sand dredging said they were collecting thumbprints to petition the National Assembly and relevant ministries to stop companies from digging up sand in Koh Kong.
Koh Kong authorities have criticized the activists for preventing the sand dredging boats from operating and noted that the provincial governor can order them to stop their activities if their actions provoke anarchy.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Mines and Energy 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.
Around 20 companies have licenses allowing them to legally dredge in the country, but their permits will expire in December. The Ministry of Mines and Energy started issuing sand-dredging licenses in 2006, although many companies operate illegally without them.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.