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Activists fear dredging in wildlife sanctuary

A photo taken by activists appears to show new sand-dredging activity in Koh Kong province, despite a standing ban on sand exports from companies operating in coastal areas.
A photo taken by activists appears to show new sand-dredging activity in Koh Kong province, despite a standing ban on sand exports from companies operating in coastal areas. Mother Nature

Activists fear dredging in wildlife sanctuary

Activists and a fisherman yesterday claimed that a company has started sand dredging within a wildlife sanctuary in Koh Kong, despite a standing ban on sand exports from companies operating in coastal areas.

The alleged activities are in the same area where dredging vessels were spotted about a week ago in the vicinity of a sand-processing facility currently under construction in the province, and in an area where two companies were given approval to conduct environmental impact assessments for sand dredging projects.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, a co-founder of NGO Mother Nature, supplied a photo of what appears to be a vessel dredging sand in front of the facility. The photo was taken on the weekend while a group of activists were in the area to film a video about the issue.

The facility is located inside the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We are concerned the resumption of sand dredging in the ecologically vital mangroves of the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary, under the façade that sand will be used for construction in the domestic market, will soon mean a return to the environmental, social and economic destruction we saw there during the 2008 to 2016 period,” he said.

Fisherman In Sophany said he had not seen dredging during the day, but had seen piles of sand at the facility, raising suspicions that dredging might be taking place at night. “Ninety-five percent of our community is fishermen, so if there is sand dredging, it will badly affect our income,” he said.

Udom Seima Peanich Industry & Mine Co Ltd and SCTWN Development Co Ltd were given approval by authorities, including the Ministry of Environment, to conduct EIAs for sand dredging in Koh Kong’s Trapaing Roung and Tatay Krom communes.

Under the Law on Protected Areas, the “illegal use and occupation of any part” of a sanctuary is prohibited. Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, didn’t respond to requests for comment as to whether sand dredging or the construction of a processing facility constituted such an activity.

“This action shows to me that whoever is behind the construction of the facility cares little about [what] the relevant ministries are saying, since they feel even more powerful than the government,” Gonzalez-Davidson said, adding that it also exposes Environment Minister Say Sam Al for “being utterly unable to control what actually takes places inside so-called protected areas of Cambodia”.

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