About 50 villagers in Kandal province protested yesterday in an attempt to halt the activities of a Vietnamese sand-dredging company, which they said has caused a huge swath of their land to slide into the Mekong River.
Residents of Kien Svay district’s Koh Prak village said that over the course of the company’s first month of operations, a length of shoreline more than 500 metres long and five metres wide has collapsed into the river, taking crops with it, and threatening the homes of those living nearest the river.
According to village representative Tuy Phy, 51, villagers began their protest yesterday morning at the Koh Prak port – where the dredging barges dock – then piled into five motorboats and sailed over the barges to ask them to stop their work.
“The activity of sand dredging of this Vietnamese barge company has severely affected our villagers’ lands and houses,” he told the Post. “To protect villagers’ lives, their houses and their lands from collapsing into the river, we asked the barge to stop dredging sand from Koh Prak village from now on.”
The barges obliged until just before midday, Phy said, but when the protesters returned home, they resumed dredging.
Villagers don’t even know the company’s name, he added, since none of the employees speak Khmer, but its six to seven barges had been operating on a daily basis.
Phok Dara, 52, a farmer in Koh Prak village, said that his house and land were on the Mekong’s banks, just 15 metres from where the barges dredge.
“I am afraid that my house and land will slide into the river some day,” he said, adding that according to villagers’ reports, the company’s activities directly affected 46 families, and over 100 more indirectly.
Im Sarom, 54, another resident, said villagers have submitted a complaint asking Phoum Thom commune officials to intervene but have not yet received a response, adding that villagers will stage a protest at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house if a solution is not found.
Kien Svay district police chief Var Samath said the “issue is a matter for the Kien Svay district governor, who issued [the company’s] licence”.
Samath said he had personally observed the loss of shoreline in Koh Prak, but maintained that much of the erosion was due to natural forces.
Neither representatives of the company, nor Kien Svay district governor Heng Theam could be reached for comment.
To contact the reporter on this story: Buth Reaksmey Kongkea at firstname.lastname@example.org