Authorities in Banteay Meanchey province banned all activity related to excavation on Phnom Bak in Sisophon town to preserve it as a natural heritage site.
Voek Vantha, deputy director of the provincial Department of Mines and Energy, told The Post that on March 19, his team – in collaboration with the provincial Department of Environment – shut down a business run by an individual identified as Chang Gek Pheav for removing earth from Phnom Bak in Teuk Thla commune’s Phnom Bak village.
“Phnom Bak, 36ha in size, is one of the five hills in Sisophon town. The government has declared it an untouchable natural heritage site. All mining or earth removal activities are strictly prohibited,” he said.
When police shut down the operation, they met with a lot of support from the public, he said.
Ou Mao, 52, a resident of the commune, told The Post that there were once many small hills standing near the town, including Phnom Bak. However, excavation operations had not been regulated in the past, and several of them were almost as flat as the surrounding ground now, he said.
“Almost half of Phnom Bak has been excavated. The traders who make money from the mountain are not afraid the village or commune authorities. They say they are taking the earth to build roads or schools, but this is merely a pretext for their commercial operations,” he said.
He added that this round of excavation of Phnom Bak began on February 15, with the police instructing the trader to cease operations on March 17. The business had not stopped on that day, with the earth still being seen in trucks leaving the site.
“I was very happy to see the authorities return and shut down the digging of the hill so as to turn it into a natural heritage site,” she said, adding that the excavation took place near the graveyard of people who had died of Covid-19.
A staff member employed by Gek Pheav told The Post on condition of anonymity that the firm had been removing earth from the site at the request of the provincial authorities. He explained that the earth was needed for a road building project and to fill in the yard of a higher education institute in a provincial town to prevent flooding during the rainy season.
“Our company would not dare to take earth from the hill without permission,” he said.
Vantha of the mines department said the closure of excavation activities applied not only to the Phnom Bak area but to all natural heritage mountain sites in the province.
He added that the province has nine such hills, all of which are rich in natural resources and cultural heritage.
The nine hills, he said, include Phnom Kang Va in Sisophon town; Phnom Touch and Phnom Banteay Neang in Mongkol Borei district; Phnom Chreab and Phnom Sras in Preah NetrPreah; and Phnom Kampoul Bei, Phnom Veng, Phnom Malai and Phnom Teuk Chenh in Malai district.