Koh Kong Activists Threatened With Eviction Over Dredging Row

A village chief in Koh Kong province is threatening to have an environmental rights NGO thrown out of the area for alleged incitement if protests it is involved in against a company dredging sand off the coast escalate.

For the past few weeks, the NGO Mother Nature has been helping fishermen in Koh Kong district who are trying to drive away sand dredging barges working around Koh Kapi island. The fishermen accuse Rainbow International’s dredgers of operating illegally beyond their permitted area and destroying key fish breeding habitat that they depend on.

The dredging has been on hold since provincial authorities ordered a suspension of the company’s operations last week.

On Tuesday, Mles Chheang, the chief of Koh Kapi commune’s Koh Salao village, said his deputy had prepared a complaint accusing Mother Nature’s activists of inciting the fishermen. The complaint calls for the activists to be thrown out of the area, and Mr. Chheang said he would submit it to commune and district authorities if the villagers’ protests led to violence.

“We have only prepared it in advance in case there is violence, because [the activists] have come here and caused chaos,” he said. “I have not sent the letter because we have been monitoring the situation and there has been no violence yet.”

The letter, a copy of which was obtained Tuesday, accuses the NGO of inciting the villagers, violating unspecified laws, and obstructing local development. Mr. Chheang said Rainbow International had begun construction of a dirt road in the commune.

Mother Nature co-founder Sun Mala, who has joined the fishermen during their protests, said he had seen a photograph that villagers took of the letter during a meeting with local officials over the weekend and that he would resist any attempt to send him away.

“We will not leave because we are not doing anything wrong,” he said. “We are not inciting villagers. Together we are protecting the nature that is being destroyed by the sand dredging.”

Mother Nature has raised the ire of authorities before.

In February the government deported the NGO’s other co-founder, Spanish national Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, after refusing to renew his visa because of an illegal road checkpoint the group set up in Koh Kong in protest against a proposed hydropower dam.

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