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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New facility worries activists

A sand-washing facility inside Koh Kong’s Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary.
A sand-washing facility inside Koh Kong’s Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary. Mother Nature

New facility worries activists

Activists say a new sand-processing facility is under construction in Koh Kong’s Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, in the vicinity of the area where two companies were granted permission to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for sand-dredging projects, documents show, despite a standing government ban on sand exports.

According to letters from the Ministry of Environment and outgoing Koh Kong Governor Bun Leut, the firm CES Co Ltd was given until May 1 to conduct an EIA for Udom Seima Peanich Industry & Mine Co Ltd and SCTWN Development Co Ltd for dredging in Koh Kong’s Trapaing Roung and Tatay Krom communes.

Hun Vannak, an activist with the conservation group Mother Nature, visited the area where the proposed sand-dredging projects would take place and said he and other activists were told a nearby construction site inside the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary was a sand-washing facility.

Vannak said they were told the machinery would be used for “cleaning and extracting the sand”, though no work was underway at the time.

“They are finishing the construction,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure if there was a connection between the proposed dredging project and the facility.

Danh Serey, director of the EIA Department at the Ministry of Environment, would only say the companies were “studying” the EIA reports and that the process wasn’t complete, despite the time period having lapsed.

“I don’t know when they will be finished,” he said, declining to answer specific questions.

Meng Saktheara, secretary of state for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said a completed EIA needs to be approved by the Ministry of Environment before the Ministry of Mines can grant a licence. However, since the sand-export ban is still in effect, the Ministry of Mines and Energy “will not consider any applications at the moment”, he added.

“The companies still insisted to continue with the EIA process,” he said, noting that the companies may have hoped the ministry would give them a licence nonetheless.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, a co-founder of Mother Nature, said one way to explain the apparent confusion was “a total system failure”.

“There is zero transparency and accountability on what is going on in relation to the sand-washing facility, but the fact that construction is well underway while no sand mining permits have been issued should be raising alarm bells,” he said, adding that he believed it was “likely a resumption of sand exports” was in the works.

A representative with Udom Seima’s Singapore branch claimed the company had shut down its Cambodia operations. CES didn’t respond to requests for comment, and contact information for SCTWN Development couldn’t be obtained.

Additional reporting by Jovina Chua

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