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Kandal pollution row heats up

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More than 1,000 villagers threaten to protest if authorities ignore their latest complaint against a Korean ethanol factory they say is polluting their lake

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

Fisherman Tep Tong says his lake is being polluted by a Korean alcohol factory.

MORE than 1,000 villagers in Kandal province's Prek Pnov commune have threatened to protest if authorities fail to act on their repeated allegations that a Korean ethanol factory is releasing toxins into Samrong Lake, from which many make their living as fishermen.

Fisherman Tep Tong said that the villagers have already complained five times to the local authorities, saying that MH Bio-Energy Group is polluting the lake.

He said villagers will demonstrate if they do not receive a response to the sixth complaint they recently lodged.

"The people from six villages in three communes have already asked the authorities for permission to demonstrate," he said.

"If we don't get a resolution to our complaint or don't hear back from the authorities, we will demonstrate without permission.

"We are afraid to eat the fish from the lake and a lot of [fish] have died. Some chickens, ducks and cows have also died from drinking water from the lake," he said, adding that he finds it difficult to sleep at night because of the stench wafting from the lake.

We are afraid to eat fish from the lake and a lot of [fish] have died.

Orn Thorn, who has been fishing in the lake since 1990, said that the toxins released into the lake are killing 70 to 80 kilograms of fish per day.

"I used to be able to earn a lot more before the company started releasing the toxins, but now I earn less because the pollution is causing a lot of fish to die," he said. "Now my 600-metre fishing net can only catch three or four fish.

"We don't have any rice fields and we don't have another business to replace fishing," he said.

Sim Sokha, a fish breeder in Prek Pnov commune, said since the lake became polluted he cannot pump lake water into his pond as he is afraid that it will kill his fish. "Now I have to wait for the rain," he said.

MH Bio-Energy officials deny that the company has polluted the lake since beginning operations in Kandal province four months ago.

"Some families do business on duck feeding, and they release their waste into the lake so maybe that is why there is a problem," said Huy Hour, a senior production manager, acknowledging, however, that the stench in the village is coming from the lake.

"We can show the people our drainage system, which is four metres underground, so they can see that we are not polluting the lake," he said.

Chao Bun Thong, chief of Prek Pnov commune, said he has lodged the villagers' complaints with various ministries but has not received a response from any of them.

"People from the six villages asked me for permission to demonstrate but I haven't answered them yet. I told them to try to settle the matter peacefully because I have heard some villagers say that they will destroy the factory if they have the chance," he said.

"The factory is releasing the toxins at night when we sleep, so we don't have any evidence to accuse them," he said, adding that people who live near the lake have been getting headaches and fevers.

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