A commune official of Prek Khsay Kor in Prey Veng province approached Sek Try at a ceremony in early March and offered her rice and money donated by the Phal Sareth Company.
There, at the ceremony, she was asked to thumbprint a document to confirm that she had received the rice and money.
Mrs Sek Try, 60, said Tuesday that her thumbprint has since been used by the company to show the government that she supports the company’s sand-dredging project in the Mekong River—something she didn’t sign up for.
“My thumbprint was only to confirm I received the rice, not showing support for the sand-dredging,” Mrs Sek Try said, adding, “If I knew the purpose was to show my support, I would not have agreed.”
Mrs Sek Try was listed as one of 242 villagers living along the Mekong River in Prek Khsay Kor commune who received 20 kg of rice and 10,000 riel from the Phal Sareth Import-Export and Tourism Company on March 3. She said she missed the donation in February, which was also held at Prek Khsay pagoda, where about 200 people received a similar package of goods.
“At that time, people were happy with the money and rice gift, but now we are worrying about our houses collapsing,” she said of the dredging operation near her home.
On March 19, Water Resource Minister Lim Kean Hor ordered the dredging by Phal Sareth stopped after receiving complaints from villagers. Less than a month later, the ministry reversed itself and allowed the company to continue dredging, much to the consternation of locals who are afraid the dredging will lead to the collapse of riverbanks.
Several villagers interviewed Tuesday said they were not happy about the use of their thumbprints by Phal Sareth Company to show support for the dredging.
Seng Sovann, 30, representing 139 villagers protesting what Phal Sareth Company had done, said Tuesday that the villagers named in the list as supporting the dredging want to deny their support.
Bunchan Kreusna, deputy director general of the Phal Sareth Company, said that his company has spent $300,000 building a school and health center near the affected communities.
“Among the dredging companies, no one has a big heart like mine,” he said, adding that if his business is closed then local villagers would lose the benefits.