Sand dredging on the Mekong River continued near the Neak Leung Ferry crossing Friday, despite a decision by the Ministry of Water Resources on Thursday that the dredging must stop amid fears that it could cause the collapse of National Road 11 and villagers’ homes.
At the meeting Thursday, the Ministry of Water Resource’s Sand Management Committee once again called on the Phal Sareth Import Export Tourism Company to stop its small fleets of tugboats from dredging sand from the riverbed near Neak Leung; the fifth time the ministry has demanded that the firm stop it operations in the area.
Contacted by telephone, the firm’s deputy director general Bunchan Kreusna said that his company will only stop dredging when it physically receives the order from the government to do so.
“We have not stopped yet because we haven’t seen the order yet, but we will follow it,” Bunchan Kreusna said. “It is very unjust to me because there is no harm at all… This is just business jealousy,” he said.
Bunchan Kreusna added that his firm has only received one letter from the Ministry of Water Resources, dated Oct 22, ordering that it stop dredging in certain areas. That order, however, did not ban dredging outright, said Bunchan Kreusna, adding that his firm has continued to dredged “in legal dredging zones.”
Water Resources Ministry cabinet chief Chan Yuttha said Friday that he was drafting a report on Thursday’s decision regarding the dredging company and it will forwarded to Prime Minister Hun Sen for approval.
“My office is writing a letter to Samdech [Hun Sen],” he said, though he declined to elaborate.
According to documents obtained Tuesday the Ministry of Water Resources has ordered the Phal Sareth company to stop dredging four times since 2007 and Hun Sen endorsed a Dec 12 report by the Ministry of Water Resources Ministry prohibiting the dredging near the Neak Leung ferry.
“[T]he committee in previous times has banned the dredging because the sand dredging in this area will lead to damage of National Road 11,” the report states.
Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor was at a loss on Thursday to explain why the dredging company has continuously ignored his ministry’s orders, though Bunchan Kreusna said on Tuesday that the owner of the company is a high-ranking RCAF general and member of Hun Sen’s elite bodyguard unit.
“It is hard and not easy for me to answer this question… Because the company has acted aggressively,” Lim Kean Hor said of his ministry’s problems with the firm.
Villagers living on the banks of the river near the dredging operation said on Friday that the process of stopping the firm is going too slowly.
“[On Thursday] night the company dredged more intensely than ever-almost non-stop,” said Sin Rath, a villager from nearby Prek Khsay village.
Sin Rath is among 139 people who on Feb 13 signed multiple letters addressed to Hun Sen, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Lim Kean Hor and Industry Minister Suy Sem expressing their concerns with the dredging.
“We are so happy with the order of the closure but if it does not work then we will worry more,” Sin Rath added.