A large-scale digging project is taking place in the capital in seeming direct contradiction of a longstanding government ban on the practice, a letter obtained by The Post and first-hand observation by reporters suggests.
In the letter dated February 17, Phnom Penh City Governor Pa Socheatvong informs Por Sen Chey district authorities that the municipality has granted permission to a woman named Kem Sotheary to remove soil from an area of Prey Roieng village. The approval comes after a February 2 request by Sotheary for permission to sell and deliver soil.
Sotheary was one of two people swept up in a Ministry of Mines and Energy crackdown last September after she was seen illegally digging in Por Sen Chey district.
The incident prompted Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem at the time to ask Socheatvong to stop issuing licences for businesses to dig in the city.
The government had already officially banned digging for the purposes of selling soil in the capital in 2005.
Phloeung Chheh Roteh commune chief Korng Rom yesterday said the area that is to be filled is currently a rice field but maintained the digging hadn’t started yet. He added that the land where the soil will be taken from belongs to Sotheary.
“The place where they dig the soil is very far from the village,” he added. “It’s [near] National Road 3 at the edge of the village.”
But Post reporters were yesterday able to locate two huge open pits approximately two-storeys deep near National Road 3. In one of them, an excavator was at work digging. There were several other excavators and pieces of machinery sitting near the open pits, but no one could identify the person or company for whom they were working.
Villagers said the digging had been going on for two or three years. One woman, who declined to give her name, said the digging had temporarily stopped before resuming.
“They stopped digging for one year and started again around July,” the woman said. Villagers said they were concerned about children and cattle falling into the pits.
Chhe Lidin, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the ban on digging in the municipality remains in effect and he knew of no exceptions being made.
“We have not received any information from the Phnom Penh municipality on this digging case,” he said. “Through our hotline, we did, however, receive information about people bringing equipment into areas where there had been digging activities before.”
Lidin said the ministry will send an inspection team to “enforce the law accordingly”. Phnom Penh spokesman Mep Measpheadkey referred questions to fellow spokesman Mean Chanyada. Chanyada said he had not seen the February 17 letter.
“By principle, we don’t allow digging and delivery of soil,” he said, adding that officials only approve such practice if they deem the development project as “very necessary”.