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SEZ polluting Bavet canal, villagers say

A car passes through the gates of the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Bavet last year where villagers have accused the SEZ of polluting a waterway.
A car passes through the gates of the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Bavet last year where villagers have accused the SEZ of polluting a waterway. Pha Lina

SEZ polluting Bavet canal, villagers say

Villagers living along a canal in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town say its water has been polluted by untreated discharge from the nearby Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ), rendering it unusable.

Three communes live along the Tapov canal – Bati, Prasat and Bavet – with villagers from the first two saying that they have complained about the pollution since 2015 and that the quality of the water has continued to decline and the smell is unbearable.

Bati’s commune chief, Chan Sarun, said the villagers had complained to him multiple times, and while Manhattan SEZ administrators said they would build a water treatment facility he was yet to see any improvement.

“We know of cows that have died after drinking the dirty water and we can no longer find fish in the water,” he said, adding that many villagers have left the area because the smell was too noxious.

In 2014 the canal was brought to the attention of Bavet Town Governor Seng Seyla, who yesterday said he had no jurisdiction over the SEZ and had passed the matter on to provincial officials.

“I acknowledge their difficulties, but we need to understand the job opportunities this zone has provided to the people,” he said. “So this is unavoidable.”

Koeut Saroeurn, head of the provincial environment department, said the canal had been polluted by Manhattan, but it was not as badly as locals claimed.

“We know the water is polluted in that canal, but it is not as bad as other lakes, like Boeung Tompun [in Phnom Penh],” Saroeurn said. “We have asked the factories to build their own water treatment plants.”

In an interview yesterday, Manhattan’s managing director, Larry Kao, said that while the SEZ now had a water treatment plant, which would be operational soon, it was also the responsibility of individual factories to perform water treatment.

“All investors in the SEZ, if they have discharge water, they are responsible for their own treatment,” he said. “We are concerned if there are discharges.”

While initially dismissing the villagers’ claims, Kao did admit that there could be instances of garment dyes being present in the canal water, and that the SEZ would work with the provincial authorities to address any erring factories.

Last year, garment manufacturer and SEZ tenant Top Sports was fined twice for discharging untreated water into the canal, but now has its own treatment facility.

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