Sand Dredging Returns—in Earnest—to Kampot River

More than two years after Prime Minister Hun Sen imposed a ban on sand dredging for export, dozens of sand barges have returned to the river in Kampot City during the last two months and are shipping portions of their hauls abroad, an official said Friday.

Kampot city Governor Nak Sovannary said that he did not know the legal status of the dredging operations or whether the companies involved had obtained licenses.

“There are a few companies dredging sand here, but I don’t know whether or not they have obtained licenses,” Mr. Sovannary said Friday. “Some [of the dredging] is for local demand and some is for export,” he said.

Kampot provincial Governor Khoy Khun Hour said officials at the provincial department of industry were responsible for dredging operations. Efforts to contact the department were unsuccessful on Friday.

Sand dredging came under scrutiny in Cambodia in 2009 when the environmental watchdog Global Witness released a report that stated dredging was having a devastating effect on rivers, local livelihoods and fish stocks. Demand for sand at the time was being fueled by Singapore, which uses it to reclaim land for large-scale property projects.

Try Chhoun, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that considering the ban on sand dredging for export, there should be more transparency around licensing and the companies involved in the practice.

“It is unclear whether the firms are subcontractors or the key companies that obtain licenses for dredging sand,” she said, adding that the dredging barges had come back to the Kampot river two months ago. Last year the dredgers had returned briefly, but they were soon shut down due to the ban on dredging for exports, he said.

“I was told by workers at the dredging site that the dredging companies are Vietnamese and Chinese owned and that they have dredged sand for export,” Ms. Chhoun said.

“In the past, there were four separate companies dredging sand for export, but operations were halted for more than a year since Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the ban,” she said.

Describing the size of the dredging operations now on the river, Ann Pizey, director of Stand Up For Rivers, a group of local conservationists in Kampot, said that 18 barges full of sand traveled down the river in one afternoon alone last weekend.

“In the past two weeks it has gotten worse,” she said.

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