Five sand-dredging operations in Ratanakkiri province – one owned by the provincial director of Public Works and Transportation – have been in business illegally for some 20 years, the rights group Adhoc said yesterday.
Adhoc said that it uncovered the operations in Veun Say, Lumphat and O’Yadav districts, just over a week after journalists in the province were encouraged by a visiting Ministry of Mines and Energy official to investigate unlicensed mining and dredging.
“They are dredging and selling every day without a licence from the ministry,” Adhoc provincial coordinator Chhay Thy said. “This illegal sand-pumping business began in 1995 when the sand was needed for construction.”
“The authorities do not urge them to get a licence. They can get benefits [from dredging] for themselves … but it affects the environment and people’s living conditions,” he added.
In a press conference last week, Energy Ministry secretary of state Meng Saktheara told journalists in Ratanakkiri that there were no licensed dredging operations in the province, and encouraged journalists to “catch” any illegal businesses that engage in the practice.
One such business in O’Yadav district belongs to Sou Somnang, director of the Ratanakkiri provincial Public Works and Transportation department, said Thy.
Samnang yesterday admitted to operating a dredging site in O’Yadav, but said that it was approved by provincial authorities.
“I just started a few months ago. There are no licenses in the province.… I did not know where to get [one],” Samnang said, adding that he was now preparing documents to apply for a licence from the Energy Ministry.
Moeung Sineath, an information official at Ratanakkiri provincial hall, said that the provincial department of Mines and Energy would urge unlicensed companies to apply for the proper documents. He nonetheless maintained that for small businesses, which just support construction inside the province, there was no need.
The ministry’s Saktheara, however, begged to differ, saying yesterday that all operations required the licence, and he had asked authorities to temporarily halt illegal operations while they applied for licences.
“We will go again soon with legal officers. If they keep running without the license, we will make a note to the court.”