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Algae war rages in Kampot

Algae war rages in Kampot

Kampot provincial authorities have decided to postpone all algae production in a

local commune in the wake of a conflict in the provincial court between an algae-growing

cooperative and local villagers.

Governor Puth Chanrith said the provincial authorities would send experts to study

the impact algae-growing activities were having on the villagers' abilities to catch

fish.

"Our experts will investigate the conflict and research the impact to the environment

next week," he said.

Kampot court delayed testimony from villagers' representatives December 11 after

more than 300 villagers from the commune turned up at court. The court had summoned

representatives at the request of the cooperative, which wanted their response to

its complaint. Judge Kim Ravy said too many people had turned up, and postponed the

hearing.

"As the court, we must investigate complaints that we receive to determine who

is right and who is wrong," he said.

Villagers denied they were destroying the cooperative's algae stocks and said they

simply wanted their fishing grounds back. Police November 30 fired warning shots

at villagers who tried to uproot algae strings.

Seng Chantha, a representative, came to Phnom Penh the following day to seek legal

assistance. He said the Cambodian Defenders' Project would start work for them next

week.

"Our people are very concerned about our livelihoods, so we decided as many

of us as possible should come to court," he said.

Villager Nan Sophal, 39, said people could no longer wait for the local authorities

to provide a solution. She said that before the company set up its operation, villagers

earned as much as 30,000 riel a day from catching fish, crabs and shrimp. Now they

were lucky to get one-tenth that.

"We can not wait any longer," Sophal said. "Our rice pot is there,

and we need it to survive. We cannot survive on this amount. What does one kilogram

of rice cost? How much do we have to pay to send our children to school? What about

other expenses? We are finding it very hard to live now."

Touch Seng Tana, a scientist and member of the economic, social and cultural observation

unit at the Council of Ministers, said algae growth should not adversely impact the

environment.

However, he acknowledged that if the cooperative - made up of local police, sailors

and villagers from outside the area - had taken people's land or water for its business,

that would lead to conflict.

"To avoid problems the cooperative should provide villagers with some technical

assistance and pay them to grow the algae. It could just buy it from them,"

he said "That would be a good solution."

Cambodia exports the by-product from algae - known as carrageenan - which is

used in medicines, cosmetics and paint. The bulk of the country's 500 hectares suitable

for algae is located in Kampot province.

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