A dredging vessel extracting sand from the Tonle Bassac in this file photo.
INTERNATIONAL corruption watchdog Global Witness has welcomed the recent decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen to ban sand exports from the country, calling it a "first move" towards the sustainable management of the country's natural resources.
"Sand dredging is just one example of widespread environmental malpractice," said Global Witness campaigner Eleanor Nichol in a statement released Tuesday.
"This must be the beginning, not the end, of action to counter natural resource mismanagement and exploitation in Cambodia."
Global Witness also called for an end to the "untransparent allocation of onshore oil and mining concessions" and a review of the concessions already existing in the Kingdom.
The comments came three months after Global Witness released its "Country for Sale" report, alleging high-level corruption and nepotism in the country's extractive resources sector.
The report also included information about a large-scale sand-mining operation in Koh Kong province, where thousands of tonnes of sand per week were being extracted from the area and shipped to Singapore by the Hong Kong-based Winton Enterprises.
In a letter dated Friday, Hun Sen announced a blanket ban on sand exports, in order to "protect the stability of the natural environments of both rivers and marine areas".
Pech Siyon, director of the Koh Kong provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, said local authorities had ordered a "temporary" stop to the export of sand.
But he said companies continued to extract sand from the province's coastal estuaries, pending an examination of the operations by a special interministerial committee.
In a statement released April 6, the Cambodian ambassador to the United Kingdom accused Global Witness of engaging in "virulent and malicious campaigns" against the government, and called for financial backers to cut off funds to the group.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that despite the positive reaction of Global Witness to the ban, the government would continue to serve the needs of the Cambodian people, rather than outside pressure groups.
"We don't pay attention to this organisation. We just [want to] make sure our people have enough food and are happy," he said Wednesday.