The Battambang Provincial Administration has rebuffed claims made by environmental NGO Mother Nature Cambodia that the historic Sangke River was being encroached upon by influential individuals who dumped soil into the river for personal gain.

The administration dismissed the accusations as inflammatory and misleading.

These denials were in response to the NGO’s social media post dated June 19, alleging that wealthy individuals were filling in parts of the river to build structures. It further criticised local authorities for appearing to overlook this “transgression”.

In a June 20 statement, the administration countered that the allegations were politically-motivated attempts to undermine the authorities as Cambodia approaches its seventh parliamentary election.

“The accusations distort information with malicious intent,” it said.

“Officials had inspected the construction site and found that the landowner, Chao Madonet, in Bao Po village of Sangke district’s O’Dambang 1 commune, had built a building on their rightful land without encroaching on the Sangke River or its banks. They also poured concrete along the river bank, following existing patterns, without any encroachment as accused,” it said.

The administration said their construction methods necessitated temporarily filling the river with soil, which was later removed, causing no obstruction to water flow. Approximately 1,000m of concrete had been laid along the river bank to guard against erosion, particularly during the rainy season when water flow is strong.

It explained that a 2,000m concrete road had already been completed to the satisfaction of local residents, facilitating easier travel.

“These activities not only have no effect upon the Sangke River’s flow but also significantly prevent bank erosion. The allegation that individuals or owners are encroaching on the river banks, as posted by Mother Nature Cambodia and [Facebook] user Lork Mephum, is unfounded” it added.

Provincial governor Sok Lou was unavailable for comment on June 21, citing a meeting commitment. Sangke district governor Neang Chanthara could not be reached for comment.

Ken Sokhan, an official from the Sangke district office, noted that despite previous denials and clarifications by the administration, Mother Nature Cambodia seemed unresponsive. When asked whether legal action would be pursued in addition to the issued statement, he deferred, saying: “This case is the responsibility of the district governor and the Battambang Provincial Administration to answer”.