Just over a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen put the Mines and Energy Ministry in charge of all aspects of sand dredging licensing, an inspection team led by the ministry shut down two illegal dredging operations on Sunday, according to a statement released Monday.
Yet there was no active dredging ongoing at one of the operations, in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, while at the other site in Phnom Penh a group of workers was briefly detained then released and no equipment was seized, officials said.
According to the statement posted to the ministry’s website, it has begun working to eliminate unlicensed sand dredging throughout the country as part of its new “River Guarding” campaign.
“As a result, we have cracked down on sand dredging in two different locations,” the statement says, adding that the inspection team was comprised of ministry and local officials as well as military police.
Meng Saktheara, a secretary of state at the ministry, said the inspection group detained workers at a site at the confluence of the three rivers in front of the Royal Palace just long enough to record their identities.
“The workers were working as usual, but their boss was not around,” he said. “We released them because they are just workers, not the people in charge.”
When the inspection team arrived at the site in Kandal, it found that there was no active dredging there, Mr. Saktheara added.
“They seemed to be aware that we had gone there for inspection,” he said. “When our team arrived, they had run away already.”
In an email Monday, Dith Tina, another secretary of state at the ministry, said that no arrests had been made and no equipment seized at the Phnom Penh site.
“But we…explained to them what charges they faced if they get caught again,” he said.
Mr. Tina added that the ministry is in touch with locals living along the river who are willing to report illegal sand dredging.
“If there is any suspicious activities, we will get informed and can intervene anytime,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen said last week that he had put the Mines and Energy Ministry in charge of all aspects relating to sand dredging licensing because authorities were refusing to take responsibility for dredging, which has been blamed for several riverbank collapses.