An environmental nongovernmental organization and young Cambodians opposed to sand dredging will petition the country’s parliament and relevant ministries to stop companies from digging up sand in a southwestern province, activists said.
Mother Nature Cambodia and young people are collecting thumbprints from those who want companies to stop dredging sand in Koh Kong province and will submit them to the National Assembly and government ministries.
Mother Nature Cambodia activist San Mala said sand dredging negatively impacts fish, floods forests and takes away the livelihoods of those who rely on fishing for their survival.
“The National Assembly must prevent sand dredging companies from conducting business in Koh Kong,” he said. “The government must not license any company to dredge sand in the province in the future.”
Local youths say they have stopped 10 sand dredging boats so far.
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.
Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Leut said Mother Nature Cambodia has provoked problems in the province, but added that he is not interested in the youths’ campaign to stop sand dredging.
“I don’t have any comment if the NGO chooses to do it; that’s its right,” he said.
The youths said they will continue to oust the sand dredging boats even though the companies operating them have operating licenses.
Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman Dith Tina said the youths should contact the ministry so it can have authorities inspect the companies to prevent illegal sand dredging.
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.
Raising money in the U.S.
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the Spanish founder and current deputy director of Mother Nature Cambodia, is touring the U.S. to raise funds to support the group’s campaigns which focus on stopping sand dredging, halting the construction of the controversial Chhay Areng dam, and preserving forestland.
Activists have said the dam would force more than 300 ethnic minority families off of their ancestral lands and destroy the habitats of endangered animals.
“The money that I raise in the U.S will be transferred to activists in Cambodia,” Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA’s Khmer Service. “After I was deported, many activists have participated in the campaign.”
On February 23, authorities detained Gonzalez-Davidson and San Mala after the Spaniard’s Cambodian visa had expired three days earlier. Gonzalez-Davidson was then forced to leave the country.
Gonzalez-Davidson said his deportation raised awareness among Cambodians.
“Youths are angry, and they are getting more active,” he said. “We are having good results even though I am not in the country.”
He said that he is lobbying the U.S Senate to ask for its intervention in allowing him to return to work in Cambodia.
Gonzalez-Davidson said he is planning to seek Cambodian citizenship if he returns to the country.
He also said he would continue to oppose any plans to construct the Chhay Areng dam.
“If the government in the next mandate decides to build dam on the Areng, we will oppose it,” he said. “The Areng dam will give us few benefits, but provide many negative impacts.”
Last September, authorities briefly detained 11 local environmental activists, including Gonzalez-Davidson, for blocking a road and preventing a provincial official and Chinese experts from visiting the dam project site.
Gonzalez-Davidson told RFA at the time that villagers had set up the road block after receiving information that Chinese experts and officials were traveling to the province to conduct studies on the impact of the dam, adding they did not believe the studies would be conducted fairly.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.