Police in Koh Kong province on Tuesday prevented about 50 locals from joining a public forum on a controversial sand-dredging operation on the grounds that the group did not live close enough to where the firm is operating to participate.
Tri Sovichea, an activist from environmental NGO Mother Nature, said he and five other activists joined about 50 residents of Botum Sakor district’s Kandorl commune as they attempted to join the forum at the district government’s head office. But police refused to let them in, he said.
“About 40 commune police blocked the entrance of the headquarters and did not allow the 50 villagers to get in,” he said.
Since April, the activists and villagers have been attempting to stop Rainbow International and Direct Access from dredging the Andoung Toek estuary. They claim the dredging has caused pollution, riverbank collapses and the destruction of fish stocks.
Rainbow International has stopped dredging, they say, but Direct Access is still operating.
District governor Orn Virak said he ordered police to stop the group from attending Tuesday’s forum because its members did not live in Andoung Toek commune, where Direct Access is dredging.
“We just wanted to know the opinions of the people in Andoung Toek commune and how they are affected by the sand dredging,” he said.
Mr. Virak added that he collected testimony from about 250 villagers who attended the forum, and would send a report to the Mines and Energy Ministry, which will decide whether to renew Direct Access’ license when it expires on August 19.
Mr. Sovichea, the activist, said that while no dredging was taking place in Kandorl commune, fishermen there were still losing money because fish and crab populations were disappearing.
Sar Dara, 41, a fisherman from Andoung Toek, said he attended Tuesday’s forum and that contrary to the governor’s claim, only about 100 people joined.
“The district governor asked us to give them time because some experts from the Ministry of Mines and Energy will come to study the impact of the sand dredging,” he said.
Ministry spokesman Dith Tina did not respond to requests for comment.