AUTHORITIES have temporarily suspended three Kampot province dredging operations for sand to export, a local official confirmed on Tuesday, but confusion remains over the exact reason.
Se Da, deputy governor of Kampot’s Teuk Chhou district, said three local companies suspended their operations on January 16 on the orders of the provincial Committee on Sand.
“The [committee] ordered a halt to the sand dredging last week, and there are no longer any sand-dredging export activities,” he said, adding that the committee was examining the concession areas in order to “re-map their proper location” and ensure companies operate within legal limits.
He said he did not know when the committee – set up following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s announcement of a ban on sand export operations in May last year – would allow the companies to continue their work.
Se Da identified the firms as the Thaknin Tharith Import Export Co Ltd, the Keo Tha Company and the Theo Vorin Company. According to an October 13 letter signed by Minister of Industry Suy Sem, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, Thaknin Tharith has a licence to operate in a 42-hectare area in Teak Chhou district’s Prek Chhar and Mak Prang communes.
Pov Son, chief of Traey Koh commune, said in November that Keo Tha, which was dredging before Hun Sen’s ban, was also given an official dispensation to continue operations in October “in order to relieve flooding in the town”.
Mu Sochua, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker representing Kampot, said that prior to the halt, the Kampot River had been busy with large dredging boats – apparently owned by Vietnamese companies – and smaller vessels operated by local firms that ferried sand out to ships moored off the coast.
As of last weekend, she said, four large boats were moored outside the governor’s office.
She said she was concerned that it had taken so long to stop the dredging. “The environmental impact is very visible,” she said.
Try Chhoun, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said he believed the dredging had been halted as a result of protests by the local fishing community, who say their livelihoods have been hit hard by the operations.
“I think that the government had just suspended things for a while, to calm down the anger of the protesters,” she said, adding that the companies would likely be in operation again soon.
In a January 11 letter to Lim Kean Hor, minister of water resources and chairman of the National Committee on Sand, Mu Sochua said any export operations in Kampot were in violation of the ban issued by the prime minister last year.
“According to the decision of Prime Minister Hun Sen, please can the minister confirm the impacts of the sand-dredging industry and take action to stop the operations,” it stated.
One local fisherman from Kep Thmey village in Beoung Tuk commune said her community was happy with the government’s suspension order, but feared it wouldn’t last.
“Maybe the government realised our complaints about the impact to our life here,” said Chan Dara, 49. “But we are still concerned that when the companies are allowed to continue their operations, we will encounter the same problems again and again.”
Kampot governor Khoy Khun Hour declined to comment on Tuesday.