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Sand dredging hits eco-resort

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Sand dredging on the Tatai river in Koh Kong province in May.

An enormous sand dredging operation in Koh Kong province has escalated, a resort owner said yesterday, with boat crews allegedly trespassing onto private land and digging sand within hundreds of metres of the complex.

Janet Newman, the owner of the Rainbow Lodge eco-tourism resort, said yesterday that seven boats, three that arrived for the first time on Monday, had begun dredging “enormous” amounts of sand just 200 metres from her property.

“We found out one of the customers was actually talking to the crew because they’d tied one of the boats to a tree and were actually sitting on my property in one of the hammock huts,” Newman said.

“It was chaos on the river. You just wouldn’t believe how many boats there were in total. It was so bad that they couldn’t even get past each other.”

Ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group was awarded a concession totaling more than 32 square kilometres to dredge sand for export on the Tatai river in September 2010.

Ly Yong Phat told The Post last week that LYP Group had halted export operations, which had been ongoing for the past year, due to lack of demand from Singapore.

Mao Hak, director of river works at the Ministry of Water Resources, said yesterday that a technical expert had “thouroughly examined all corners of the impact from dredging”.

“We clearly limited the coordinates for the company. Therefore, if the company follows the rules, there will be no impact.”

A total of nine cranes including “monstrous machines that have digger buckets and a conveyor belt” had moved into nearby areas on the Tatai river, Newman said, claiming they were staffed by Vietnamese and Chinese crews.

Koh Kong provincial deputy police chief, Sin Sen, said he had yet to receive any reports of alleged trespassing by LYP Group staff members but vowed to investigate the claims if the complainants came forward.  

“I think that if that is actually happening and there are complaints to the police we will conduct an investigation because it is an illegal activity if they are doing that,” Sin Sen said.

Newman said Ly Yong Phat’s office had responded to a letter of complaint she’d sent and promised to try and find a resolution to the matter.

Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment by The Post  yesterday.  

Questions remain as to whether LYP Group’s operations violate a 2009 ban on dredging sand for export made by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Newman said a man, who she believed to be Singaporean, had called her to apologise for the unintended consequences of the dredging and promised to find a resolution. He identified himself as the head of one of the boats, she added.

Brandon Ong, an official at the Singaporean Ministry of National Development, said by email yesterday that the ministry was looking into recent sales of sand and would respond to questions from The Post at a future date.

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