The Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology on Thursday agreed to order an end to the controversial sand dredging operation at the Neak Leung Ferry crossing area of Prey Veng province out of concern for damage to National Road 1 and to local residents’ Mekong riverbank properties.
The decision to issue the order was made after a two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the members of the government’s Sand Management Committee, Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor said.
“The villagers have complained about the impact,” the minister said in an interview. “But on the other hand, my Sand Management Committee has worked with the Phal Sareth Company many times… many times,” he said, referring to the firm operating a fleet of dredging barges on the river.
Villagers in Prey Veng had sent multiple complaints to officials regarding dredging in the area by the Phal Sareth Import-Export and Tourism Company.
On March 19, National Assembly President Heng Samrin endorsed and forwarded to Lim Kean Hor a letter from Cheam Yeap, CPP lawyer for Prey Veng, who asked for an immediate order to stop the sand dredging operation after receiving complaints from the villagers.
“Please…re-inspect and immediately stop operations in order to avoid protests from the villagers that could damage the national interest,” stated the letter, which also suggested that the company should choose a dredging site further from the riverbank.
No punishment is mentioned in the order to halt operations, Lim Kean Hor said, but he added that further investigations would be made into sand-dredging operations throughout the country, including at sea. The ministry order, however, will not go into effect until it is endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, he added.
According to documents obtained Tuesday, the Ministry of Water Resources has already written at least four letters ordering Phal Sareth to stop its sand dredging. However, the company had repeatedly ignored those orders.
“Although there have been bans on sand dredging in these two areas, the sand management committee has seen that Phal Sareth Import-Export and Tourism Company still sends machinery…to extract the sand from prohibited area,” read a letter sent to the company on Oct 22, 2008.
When asked why the company had repeatedly disobeyed ministry requests to halt its operations, Lim Kean Hor said, “It is difficult and not easy for me to answer this question.”