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The National Assembly on Mon­day entered its third day debating a draft law on the management of water resources, which calls for com­panies and individuals to get licenses for any water usage be­yond personal needs such as drinking and bathing.

SRP lawmaker Sok Sethy told the Assembly he was concerned poor villagers will not be able to obtain licenses from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteor­ology to dig wells, so they will be forced to buy their water from license holders.

Under the draft law, those who dig a well without first obtaining a license will be subject to fines of around $500 to $1,250 and one to five months in prison.

Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor said that it was necessary for his ministry to regulate the sinking of water wells. He pointed to the arbitrary drilling of wells in Siem Reap town by scores of ho­tels, which he said could lead to cave-ins if left unregulated.

The minister also said that arsenic contamination in drinking water was a persistent problem that villagers were not equipped to handle on their own. Licensing wells would give the ministry an opportunity to determine if local water supplies are safe for consumption, he added.

Passage of the draft law would also serve to help the ministry combat the illegal filling in of lakes, Lim Kean Hor said. Under the draft, those who fill in a body of water without ministry approval would be subject to fines of $1,250 to $2,500 and one to five years in prison.

During the debate, several lawmakers claimed that ethnic Viet­nam­ese people were contaminating Cam­bodia’s water. Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San asked whether the government would dare evict ethnic Vietnamese villagers living on the Tonle Sap who he claimed were polluting the river. SRP leader Sam Rainsy also claimed that illegal Vietnamese immigrants on the Ton­le Sap were polluting the water.

The 17-page draft law is expected to go to a vote today.

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