Questions Raised Over Quarry Crackdown

The Phnom Penh municipal government issued a warning to those operating unlicensed sand quarries after a military helicopter plunged into one killing four people on Monday, but some questioned City Hall’s motives and commitment.

The statement, dated Tuesday and signed by Governor Pa Socheatvong, came a day after one of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ (RCAF) new Chinese-made Z-9 military helicopters crashed into a flooded quarry in Phnom Penh’s outskirts. Four soldiers on board the chopper died, including Air Force deputy commander Brigadier General Ieng Channarith, who headed the military’s helicopter training school. 

Municipal government spokesman Long Dimanche said on Thursday that the city was not blaming the accident on the quarry but decided to issue the general warning after realizing during the recovery effort that the pit was “too deep.”

Mr. Dimanche did not know just how deep the quarry was, or how deep it was licensed to be, but said a joint statement issued by several ministries a few years ago had spelled out the rules and urged people to follow them.

“After the [helicopter] accident occurred, we are making an extra push,” he said.

Tuesday’s statement takes aim at both those digging the quarries and those using the sand to fill in lakes and reservoirs vital to alleviating the flooding of local roads during heavy rains and treating the city’s wastewater. It threatens unspecified punitive action against those operating without permission or with outdated paperwork.

“The Phnom Penh municipality will take strict measures against all those who do not respect the above advisory and hopes for the people’s cooperation to restore and develop Phnom Penh,” it says.

Mr. Dimanche said he did not know how many people were running such operations with or without the proper paperwork and referred all further questions to the ministries of Mining and Finance. Officials at the ministries could not be reached or declined to comment.

Ee Sarom, however, executive director of the NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, which has warned of the risks of filling in the city’s lakes, said it was disingenuous of City Hall to issue the warning when it was at the same time letting well-connected company’s fill in Phnom Penh’s lakes. He saw little promise in the city actually enforcing the warning.

“I hope it works, but I don’t think it will,” he said. “It is the high ranking people…it is not the poor, ordinary people who do it…. They [government officials] say one thing, but they forget what they are doing already.”

If the city did not start to take the problem seriously, he added, “soon there will be nowhere for the [rain] water to go and it will flood the city.”

The city has allowed several local lakes to be filled in over the years, despite a number of reports and experts in the field advising it not to.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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