The Council of Ministers has instructed the Water Resources Ministry to proceed with a request made by Try Pheap Engineering & Construction to conduct a study on the viability of a sand dredging operation along the banks of the Mekong and Bassac rivers.
In a directive dated Tuesday and obtained yesterday, Chrea Sokchenda, secretary of state of the Council of Ministers, said the company offered to restore and build an embankment in exchange for a sand dredging operation.
It is not clear which parts of the rivers will be affected, but the directive noted that the company aims to conduct operations beginning in Kandal province’s Ka’am Samnor checkpoint, near the Vietnamese border, until the provinces of Kampong Cham and Kratie.
“The government has decided that His Excellency Lim Kean Hor, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, discuss with related institutions and give feedback,” Mr Sokchenda said in the directive.
Try Pheap Engineering & Construction earlier made a request to Prime Minister Hun Sen to sanction the study. The study was approved by Mr Hun Sen on May 1, despite opposition by NGOs.
San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, yesterday said sand dredging is an issue that affects villagers and the environment.
“Sand dredging will have environmental impacts and affect villagers when banks collapse,” Mr Chey said. “In my opinion, it is not necessary to do it now and the government should find other means.”
He noted that the Mines and Energy Ministry always downplays the impacts of sand dredging, and operators tend to neglect technical aspects and only focus on benefits.
Last year, Global Witness issued a report calling on the United States to impose sanctions against four Cambodian tycoons for their alleged roles in the demise of democracy and for human rights abuses.
The NGO accused CPP senators Mong Reththey, Ly Yong Phat, Lao Meng Khin, as well as owner of Try Pheap Engineering & Construction, Try Pheap, of having links to a massive illegal logging racket, sand dredging scandals, marijuana trafficking, land-grabbing, multi-million dollar timber smuggling and the eviction of residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake.
“The tycoons variously appear to have enjoyed immunity from the law, the rich spoils of the government’s state looting, and the use of state forces to guard their company operations and violently crack down on local protests against them,” Global Witness said in the report.
Mr Pheap could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Yous Moniroth, spokesman for the Mines and Energy Ministry, yesterday said the Water Resources Ministry is reviewing the request, and will conduct a study on the impacts before the project can be approved.
“We can’t stay anything right now because we have not yet conducted the Environmental Impact Assessment yet,” Mr Moniroth said. “They have not yet studied the environmental impacts warned about by civil society.”
“The project would pump out silt and restore the rivers, while the sand will be used to supply local and international markets,” he added.
Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Environment Ministry, yesterday said the government will only consider an operation license for Try Pheap Engineering & Construction after feedback from the ministries.
“This was only a request to conduct a study,” Mr Pheaktra said. “The government has not yet given permission.”