Anti-dredging activists have called on the Mines and Energy Ministry to investigate what they say are irregularities in sand dredging operations in Koh Kong province, including what they say is an unclear relationship between some officials and the dredging company.
While most people celebrated the Water Festival by rivers and lakes with festivities and boat races, more than two dozen activists from the Youth Resource Development Program Organization (YRDP) and the environmental organization Mother Nature tried to investigate dredging operations on Wednesday, but say they were blocked from taking photos or getting close by the dredging operators and local officials.
YRDP’s Ny Chetra told Khmer Times that whenever the group tried to look into dredging activities it appeared local officials were trying to block them and protect the companies.
“The Koh Kong provincial office of Mines and Energy said the dredging boat at Koah Sarlau Island is not illegal because they have a license from the ministry,” he said, “but we found they have a fake license.
“They still can do this because they have powerful officers behind them. Their dredging operations are protected by the local authorities.”
He said the ministry said the operations had little impact on the environment, but the groups wanted to investigate for themselves.
He said that on Wednesday, one dredging boat and local officials prevented the team from taking photos or asking questions, between Tatay village and Andoung Tuek commune.
Thon Ratha, from Mother Nature said there were two companies dredging the area: Direct Access and International Rainbow.
“We don’t know clearly which boat is for which company because the authorities blocked us from taking photos and asking questions,” he told Khmer Times. “Instead, they should show us the licenses, not block us.”
“Khem Sameth, Direct Access chief executive officer, told Khmer Times the dredging boat that blocking the group was not from his company. He said his company was still waiting for a license from the ministry to continue dredging.
“For now, we have stopped dredging and we are waiting from word from the ministry. My company is dredging in Andoung Tuek only,” he said.
International Rainbow executives could not be immediately contacted for comment yesterday.
Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman Dith Tina said the ministry always checked licenses, and studied environmental impact before granting licenses.
“The ministry didn’t order authorities to block anyone. We have a hotline for the dredging issue if anyone sees irregularities,” he said.
“In Koh Kong, we check all licenses and the environmental situation in the areas,” he said.