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Continued Dredging Threatens Coast: Watchdog

The watchdog Global Witness is warning in a new report that Cambodia continues to export millions of tons of dredged sand despite a government ban and the potential environmental risks.

The report, “Shifting Sand,” says Singapore’s demand for Cambodian sand is undermining environmental and governance efforts in the country and threatening the coastal environment, endangered species, fish stocks and local livelihoods.

Global Witness fingers two ruling Cambodian People’s Party senators, Mong Reththy and Ly Yong Phat, as having received sand extraction licenses “behind closed doors” and “gaining control of an industry worth millions of dollars.”

“Once again, we have not seen any revenue reaching the government’s account,” George Boden, a researcher for Global Witness, told VOA Khmer.

Global Witness has rankled the government on several occasions, reporting on a “kleptocratic elite” who are close to the prime minister and control lucrative trades in timber and other natural resources.

Ly Young Phat could not be reached for comment.

Mong Reththy told VOA Khmer he had government permission to build a seaport in Koh Kong province, which required dredging. But he said he was not selling the dredged sand.

The report comes a year after a sand-dredging ban by Prime Minister Hun Sen, which Global Witness called a “mockery.”

“There is no evidence that basic environmental safeguards have been applied, with boats reportedly turning up and dredging sand, often in protected areas, with no local consultation,” the group said in a statement.

Boden said donors, who provide as much as half the government’s national budget, have failed to hold the elite to account for the loss of natural resource wealth that could lift the populace from poverty.

“Global Witness is calling on Cambodia’s donors to use a forthcoming meeting to lean on the Cambodian government more to ensure the money from the sale of natural resources reach government accounts and benefit ordinary Cambodian people,” he said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan called the report an “attack” and said the policy of the government is that “any income must go to the national budget for development.”

He declined to comment on other aspects of the report.

Global Witness reported that at least 790,000 tons of sand from the coast are monthly shipped out, at a price of about $26 per ton, and that Singapore, the world’s largest importer of sand in 2008, has expanded its landmass with fill by 22 percent since the 1960s.

Global Witness said Singaporean demand for sand had created problems for the coastlines of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, prior to Cambodia.

In a statement Monday, the Singapore National Development Ministry said, “We do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand or any extraction of sand that is in breach of the source countries’ laws and rules on environment protection.”

The statement said Singapore has not received official notice from Cambodia on a ban on sand exports.