Three sand dredging companies operating on Kampot province’s Chhar River suspended their activities last week, according to local villagers and a rights worker.
The villagers had been protesting against the companies’ activities since December, as they feared dredging would cause the collapse of their houses and fruit plantations located on the river’s banks.
Try Chhuon, Kampot provincial coordinator for the human rights group Adhoc, said her organization and local villagers had been informed by provincial authorities that the companies had to suspend their activities because they were not dredging at locations designated by the government.
“Now we have seen they temporarily stopped,” she said. “The firms had dredged sand in the wrong location,” which was too close to the riverbank.
She said hundreds of villagers in Toek Chhou district had protested against the companies after witnessing parts of the riverbank collapse near their houses and jackfruit plantations, following the dredging.
“They dredged next to the bank, which is why villagers were thoroughly concerned about a massive collapse that could damage their plantations,” Ms Chhuon added.
Kampot deputy provincial governor Heng Vanna denied that the companies had been dredging sand for commercial purposes and said all dredging activity so far had been “to improve [water] transport and help water flow.”
He said a government committee was currently “studying” to find the best locations for sand dredging, adding the firms were the Vietnamese Thaknin Tharith Import Export Company, Keo Tha Company Limited and Pichey Koma Dararith, a company owned by Chek Leng, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers.
The companies were all licensed, he said, and would get “the right [dredging] locations, designated by the Ministry of Water Resources, [while] the provincial authorities require the firms to dredge at least 50 meter from the riverbank.”
SRP lawmaker for Kampot province Mu Sochua said she recently had requested the Water Resources Ministry to send her the environmental impact assessment of the license it had granted to Thaknin Tharith Import Export Co, adding that she thought the license directly opposed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s May 2009 ban on sand dredging in the territorial waters and rivers.
“I would like to see that any [local] investment includes the participation of local villagers. It must be done with a thorough impact assessment,” she said, adding, “The impact from the dredging is absolutely serious. The bank collapsed near my house too.”
Local villager Seng Nak, from Mak Brang commune, said she had noticed each company using two to five boats to dredge on the river in recent months. “Villagers were never informed until the companies started the operation,” she said, adding, “Villagers are wondering why the authorities from all levels are ignoring the prime minister’s orders.”