They thought the days of scenic sunsets ruined by the noise and pollution of dredgers on the Tatai River were over, but villagers and business owners in the popular tourism destination now say they were duped in a promise from ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat.
In October, the Post reported that Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group had respected an agreement to stop sand dredging on the Tatai River in Koh Kong province by mid-October, to the relief of business owners and villagers in the area who had long campaigned against the dredging.
But Janet Newman, owner of the Rainbow Lodge ecotourism resort, said yesterday that rather than respect the written agreement from July 16, Ly Yong Phat had simply subcontracted out to another company.
When she confronted the new company, which began dredging alarmingly close to the bank late last month and on one occasion actually tied their boats to her property, she was told they were from International Rainbow Company Ltd.
“This company in my view has been sold a complete dud by Ly Yong Phat, because there simply is no sand in the river, so they are having to break the law and come right next to the bank,” she said. LYP Group’s response was that if she, other business owners and villagers wanted International Rainbow Company Ltd to stop its noisy and destructive machinery from sand mining in the area, they would have to reimburse the company for the licence, Newman said.
A licence extension obtained by the Post early this year showed that Ly Yong Phat had been granted the right to continue dredging in the Tatai River until September 2012.
Representatives of LYP Group declined to comment yesterday.
Tatai Krom commune clerk Chuon Chinda said the Ministry of Water Resources had promised any future dredging would be conducted far from the river bank.
“I think now we were cheated by the company, because what they promised didn’t happen,” he said, adding that at least the scale of dredging had decreased to about 10 sand-mining vessels.
Chuon Chinda said LYP Group had on December 15 convinced 15 villagers to accept about US$100 each to allow the dredging to continue.
Newman said that when an inspection was conducted by Ministry of Water Resources officials last week, International Rainbow Company Ltd removed most of their dredging equipment and then simply brought it back after the inspection concluded.
Mao Hak, director of rivers at the Ministry of Water Resources, said yesterday he had heard rumours that International Rainbow Company Ltd had concealed its equipment during his committee’s inspection and urged those concerned to help him monitor the situation.
“We allowed only three dredging machines to operate per day, and did not allow dredging close to the bank,” he said.
Villagers, the commune chief and the company had agreed dredging would be allowed 50 to 60 metres from the bank in the upper Tatai and 100 metres from the bank in the lower Tatai, provided it was restricted to eight hours per day and was not conducted at night time, Mao Hak said.
“We will withdraw their licence if they do not respect [this],” he said.
A staff member at International Rainbow Company Ltd, known only as Tear, declined to comment.
François Lamontagne, manager of the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge resort on the Tatai River, said the reputation of the area as an ecotourism destination had been damaged internationally, creating a noticeable impact on business.
“The word is spreading that there is sand dredging here, and people will not come, I’m sure of that,” he said.
“We have a survey form, and on the survey form there is the good, the bad and the ugly, and if they go on an excursion, the ugly is always sand dredging.”