The ongoing excavation of the Phnom Preal hills in Pailin’s Sala Krao district has raised questions among villagers about its true purpose, despite authorities maintaining the work is purely for road construction reasons.
According to villager Om Sam Ol excavation of the hills had been ongoing for weeks on end, prompting her to believe that soil traders were colluding with local authorities to sell the soil for personal gains under the guise of road construction.
“The hills – located next to one another – are being damaged severely. They will physically disappear if no expert institution prohibits or halts [their actions],” she said.
Echoing Sam Ol’s sentiment was villager Choeub Song, who said that an unusually large amount of soil was being excavated.
“We admit that they excavate the hill for building the road for public interests,” he said. “But the soil that they used for the road construction is actually very little [and] less than the amount of soil that they sell to private companies and other villagers.”
The claims were vehemently denied by Stung Trang commune chief Keo Romdet, who said that the excavation was authorised.
“With the agreement from involved departments, provincial authorities … offered the licence to local private companies to manage the road construction, and all vehicles are allowed to excavate the hills for building the road for the people,” he said.
However, Nob Saluch, a provincial environment evaluation official, said such extensive excavation works were “wrong” as the natural landforms may face collapse in the event of heavy rains.
“We are preparing to file a suggestion to the provincial hall, asking them to intervene and halt the excavation … to protect the natural mountains and ask them to find another location to excavate the soil for building the road,” he said.