Protest Continues as Company Fills in Lake, Threatens Livelihoods

More than 300 villagers who live around Boeng Samraong lake in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district protested for a third day straight Sunday against a private company they say has been filling the lake with sand, threatening the livelihoods of local rice farmers and fishermen.

The protest began Friday morning as villagers from Samraong and Prek Pnov communes called on local authorities to stop the company, Lay Ngy Co. Ltd., from pumping sand it has been dredging from the Tonle Sap river into the 336-hectare lake, which was made a conservation area in 2008.

“We are farming communities and we really worried about losing the Samraong lake, because the Lay Ngy Company tried pumping sand from Tonle Sap to fill the lake,” said protester Hieng Vutha.

In July last year, more than 1,600 families submitted a petition to the commune office after they noticed that dredged sand was being pumped into the lake, but Mr. Vutha said the petition was never acknowledged.

Chea Rin, a 60-year-old villager who joined the protest Sunday, said hundreds of families faced losing their jobs and livelihoods if the company’s activities were allowed to continue.

“We are protesting because we rely on the water from this lake to grow rice during the dry season,” he said. “If this lake is filled, rice fields and fishing in this area will be destroyed.”

Samraong commune chief Yen Im said he reported villagers’ concerns to City Hall following the initial protest on Friday.

“We need to establish whether this lake is a conservation area or not and have sent a report to upper-level authorities,” the commune chief said, adding that 454 hectares of rice fields and fishing areas will be destroyed should the filling continue.

“We have no ability to stop the company dredging sand and pumping it into the lake because City Hall is responsible for authorizing it,” he added.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said he did not have information at hand as to whether City Hall had in fact authorized the company to fill the lake, but he confirmed that part of the lake was a conservation area.

“We will check this and look into the problem,” Mr. Dimanche said.

Lay Ngy company representatives could not be reached for comment.

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