Representatives of about 100 villagers and activists in Koh Kong province on Wednesday said they decided to temporarily halt their campaign against two sand-dredging companies because a group of suspected agitators had appeared in the area.
Over the past four days, the protesters have been attempting to stop Rainbow International and Direct Access from dredging sand in Botum Sakor district’s Andong Teuk estuary, accusing the firms of polluting the local water system.
Aboard fishing boats, the protesters have been asking the pilots of the companies’ dredging barges to leave the estuary, even towing some of the vessels out to sea.
On Wednesday, the protesters took to dry land and rallied in front of the district governor’s office to demand that authorities intervene to stop the firms from continuing to operate, said Yoeun Tinit, one of nine local activists from environmental NGO Mother Nature.
“We will continue to protest tomorrow because authorities would not find a solution for all of us.”
Contacted later in the day, Tri Sovichea, another Mother Nature activist, said they decided to not protest Wednesday evening and Thursday because an unknown group of people had arrived in the area Tuesday.
“A villager told us [they suspect] the authorities sent more than 100 people to join the protest in order to create problems for our group so they can then arrest us,” he said, adding that he saw about 60 members of the mysterious group arrive at the estuary in boats Wednesday.
District governor Orn Virak said he knew nothing about the alleged agitators. He said the companies had licenses to extract sand.
“I am not able to stop the two companies because they have licenses and they would file a complaint against us,” Mr. Virak said, adding that the protesters, however, could be arrested for disturbing the peace.
“Those people broke the law because they came to my office to rant loudly and interrupt me so that I could not work for the whole day,” he said.
“I think this is a criminal case, and I have the right to arrest those people.”