After about 70 villagers and environmental activists spent the weekend trying to drive away sand-dredging barges they claimed were illegally operating off the coast of Koh Kong province, a local official said Monday that he had ordered a brief suspension of all dredging in the area.
Local fishing families began protesting daily against the dredging operation on Thursday, repeatedly taking to their own boats to chase away about 12 barges belonging to the International Rainbow company, which they claimed were dredging without a proper permit in the waters around Koh Kapi island.
On Monday, the chief of the provincial department of industry, mines and energy, Pich Siyun, said he had ordered International Rainbow to suspend its dredging during the Khmer New Year holiday.
“We asked them to completely suspend,” he said, adding that he had paid a visit to Koh Kong district’s Koh Kapi commune to inform residents, who say the dredging is a threat to the fish stocks they depend on.
Mr. Siyun admitted that Rainbow International had been operating outside the boundaries permitted by its government-issued license, but that the license was not due to expire until December.
“The operation site is in that area, but it crossed over the boundary line a little bit,” Mr. Siyun said, adding that he did not know exactly how far beyond the allowed zone the company had gone.
However, Sun Mala, co-founder of the NGO Mother Nature, which has been participating in the protests, disputed Mr. Siyun’s version of events. He said that after Mr. Siyun’s visit to the commune on Sunday, nine dredging barges and eight sand-transport boats had returned to dredge on Sunday night and remained in the area until Monday morning, when the villagers chased them off again.
“The company didn’t stop and we didn’t receive any notice regarding the suspension of the company’s activities,” he said.
Hum Saroeun, one of the fishermen who helped chase away the boats, said Mr. Siyun did not inform locals that he told International Rainbow to stop dredging.
Contacted again for comment, Mr. Siyun said he did not need to tell villagers about the suspension.
“Let them go and check the boats, because I informed the company already,” he said.
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