Sugar Plantation in Preah Vihear Suspected in Mass Fish Deaths

The Environment Ministry is studying water samples from Preah Vihear province to find out what has been killing thousands of fish in the Stung Sen River, where villagers are reportedly blaming a sugarcane plantation.

A report posted to the National Police website Wednesday’said locals living along the river have accused Rui Feng, one of several Chinese-owned plantations in eastern Preah Vihear growing sugarcane, of dumping chemicals into the waterway and killing the fish. The report said the water had turned black and smelled bad.

It said the Environment Ministry was testing the water to discover what might be causing the death of the fish.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al said the samples were still being analyzed and referred additional questions to the province’s environment department.

Provincial department director Ea Sokha, however, said he was still waiting for the results from the ministry and had no idea when they would arrive.

He said the fish started dying in numbers about a week ago and that locals, despite their suspicions of chemical contamination, were collecting up the carcasses to eat and sell.

“Villagers say they can gather three or four tons per night,” Mr. Sokha said. “We have warned the villagers, but they still eat them.”

The department director would not speculate on the cause. But the National Police report blamed a similar bout of fish deaths in 2013 on Rui Feng for dumping chemicals into a tributary of the Stung Sen.

Mr. Sokha said he did not recall the incident.

Rui Feng could not be reached for comment. Though providing jobs for some locals, the company has also attracted its share of critics.

One of five parent companies investing about $360 million to grow, process and export sugar, it has been locked in a land dispute with hundreds of local families since it started clearing the ground in 2013.

Last month, police said they had started an investigation into allegations that the Chinese managers of another of the five companies, Heng Rui, had severely beaten three workers for stealing oil and fertilizer, one of whom later died of his injuries.

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