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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Mekong dredging continues

Mekong dredging continues

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090423_02.jpg

Villagers living near the Neak Leung ferry in Prey Veng say authorities have ignored sand-dredging operations they claim are causing riverbank collapses.

Photo by:
SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

Winton Enterprises, a Hong Kong-based company, dredges sand from a Koh Kong estuary for export to Singapore in this file photo. 

THE homes, warehouses and farmland of 138 families in Prek Ksay Kor commune in Prey Veng province's Peamro district continue to be threatened by riverbank collapses resulting from sand-dredging operations in the Mekong River, say affected villagers.

Mel Oun, 54, a villager representative, said Wednesday that sand-dredging companies, including the Phal Sareth Import-Export and Tourism Co, had increased their activities along the Mekong close to the Neak Leung ferry crossing, worsening seasonal erosion along the river's banks.

"My banana and cassava farms and the farmland of other villagers has collapsed into the river because of the sand dredging, but no authorities have opened their eyes to the operations, which has caused riverbank collapses and has almost destroyed National Road 11 in this area," he said.

"They are dredging sand for export to Vietnam, which is destroying the homes and farmland of the people."

Uth Thay, 47 a villager in Prek Ksay Kor commune, told the Post that Phal Sareth Co was filling five or six barges per day with sand from the Mekong and was operating within 300 metres  of the riverbank.

"My rice paddies and cassava warehouse collapsed into the river because Phal Sareth Co is dredging in this area," she said, adding that authorities were yet to find a solution.

Company and govt ‘conspiring'

In a March 17 speech, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned authorities in Kandal province to advise riverside residents to remove their homes in anticipation of riverbank collapses in the province that locals have blamed on dredging.

Seng Sovann, who owns a rice paddy and cassava warehouse on the riverbank, said sand-dredging operations in Prek Ksay Kor had increased since the prime minister's announcement.

"[The company] brought a little bit of milled rice to give to the people who lost their homes and farmland in the river," he said, but said the gift of 20kg of rice and 10,000 riels (US$2.44), handed out by the company in early March, did not compensate for the loss of land.

"The authorities and company have conspired with each other, and they don't care whether the people benefit," he added.

When contacted Wednesday, Peam Ro district Governor Sao Prasith said only that the case depended on the central government, not the lower authorities.

But Phal Sareth Deputy President Bunchan Kreusna told the Post the company had the proper government licences and it was operating according to the technical regulations laid down by the relevant ministries.

He added that the company had helped many local people. "[The company] has built a hospital, school, streets, [and provided] foods, petrol and fertiliser to villagers in this commune," he said.

"I believe that people are angry with my company because they listened to warehouse owners who incited the people."

Mao Hak, director of the Department of Hydrology and River Works at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, said the company had already been warned and that he would open new investigations.

"We will examine this case next week or next month. We will stop their activities temporarily if we find they have made mistakes," he said.

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