Mines and Energy Ministry Warns Sand Dredgers

The Ministry of Mines and Energy on Wednesday held a closed-door meeting with about 20 sand dredging companies in Phnom Penh to warn them to cease illegal operations or face imprisonment and fines, a ministry spokesman said.

The meeting at the Sunway Hotel followed a move by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month that put the ministry solely in charge of sand dredging licenses in an attempt to rein in rampant illegal dredging that has been blamed for riverbank collapses.

Speaking at a press conference after Wednesday’s meeting, Dith Tina, a spokesman and secretary of state at the Mines and Energy Ministry, said the dredging firms had agreed not to operate without licenses and to allow authorities to inspect their equipment.

“From today onward, we will no longer undertake education because we have done it already,” Mr. Tina said. “So from now on, we will implement legal measures.”

Mr. Tina said no companies were currently licensed to dredge sand in Phnom Penh’s rivers, and that only one firm was authorized to dredge in Kandal province. He said operators without a license would now face daily $250 fines, and possible imprisonment from one to five years.

On Sunday, officials from the ministry said they shut down two illegal operations, one in Kandal and one in Phnom Penh, but did not make any arrests or seize any equipment.

Ek Raingsei, an office manager at South Korean-owned Cambosaina Concrete, which buys sand dredged from the country’s rivers, said after Wednesday’s meeting that the new measures would hurt his company’s bottom line.

“Our company needs sand to supply construction activities, but if the government suspends sand dredging, our activities will probably be stuck,” Mr. Raingsei said.

“[W]e will try other options like buying land sand, or importing from Vietnam,” he said. “But it’s very expensive.”

Mr. Raingsei said that the price of sand that is not dredged from the river has risen nearly 50 percent since the beginning of March, to between $13 and $15 per cubic meter. He would not say what his company pays for dredged sand.

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