Sand mining and exports from Koh Kong province have been banned permanently according to a directive issued by the Ministry of Mines and Energy on Monday.
Ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said the government had suspended all sand export licences in the province after re-evaluating the environmental and social impact on river systems.
He said the ministry worked with civil organisations to assess sand mining in Koh Kong, and found the province could not support large-scale dredging.
Exports from the province had been temporarily suspended since November, amid controversy over a 56 million-tonne discrepancy in sand sold to Singapore.
Government officials said some 16 million tonnes of sand were sent to Singapore from 2007 to 2015. However Singapore records indicate it imported 72.2 million tonnes during the same period.
Mr Saktheara said only a few small-scale mining operations would be allowed to continue in Koh Kong, in the Sre Ambel, Tatay, Trapaing Roung, Koh Por river systems. The sand mined in these operations would be used for local projects.
“We are totally closing large-scale sand mining for exports in this province,” he said.
According to Mr Saktheara, sand mining in Koh Kong posed a risk to the habitats of critically endangered wildlife, including royal turtles.
It also caused riverbanks to collapse and harmed mangrove forests, as well as damaging the livelihoods of local communities.
Mr Saktheara said the ministry would continue to evaluate other provinces where sand mining took place, using thorough environmental impact assessments.
According to the government directive on the issue, the majority of the country’s sand exports will now come from Kampot and Preah Sihanouk provinces.
In Koh Kong, all licences for sand mining have been cancelled and firms who wish to carry out small-scale operations will have to reapply for permission.
However San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he was still concerned about the enforcement of the ban on sand dredging.
He said clarity is required on what activities local people may carry out on rivers in the province.
“We want the ministry to work closely with local communities,” he said, “We need to have more discussions about what small-scale sand mining is allowed to meet local needs.”
Nine companies have licences to carry out sand dredging in Cambodia and export the sand.