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Groundbreaking Environmental Campaign Group Closed as Activists Arrested


FILE PHOTO - Machines pull sand from the bottom of water near Koh Sralau in Cambodia, Oct. 30, 2016.

Last week, the group circulated Taiwanese trade figures that showed imports of silica sand dwarfed Cambodia’s recorded exports by $30 million.

Environmental campaign group Mother Nature was stricken from the government register of NGOs on Friday amid an investigation into missing funds from sand exports to Taiwan that has seen two of its activists jailed.

In a letter released on Friday, the interior ministry said the NGO, which previously exposed evidence of hundreds of millions of dollars missing from sand export records and campaigned with relative success against the Stung Cheay Areng hydropower dam in Koh Kong province, had asked for the de-listing itself.

One of its founders, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, was in 2015 deported for an alleged immigration violation in a case widely believed to his central role in co-ordinating Mother Nature’s activities in Cambodia.

Last week, the group circulated Taiwanese trade figures that showed imports of silica sand dwarfed Cambodia’s recorded exports by $30 million. The news followed a similar scandal uncovered by Mother Nature in which Singapore had recorded about $700 million more in imports than Cambodia reported in exports over the course of several years, raising suspicions of corruption.

Also last week, two Mother Nature activists, Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak, were arrested by police acting on a complaint filed by a company purportedly owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat, for filming boats suspected of involvement in illegal sand dredging in Koh Kong province and have since been charged with incitement and making unauthorized recordings.

Som Khet Vean, deputy Koh Kong police chief, said an “unknown company” had detained the activists and handed them over to police.

Several officials either could not be reached for comment or declined to give an interview.

Thun Rotha, a Mother Nature activist, said: “I want to tell the Koh Kong authorities, especially the powerful ones that are involved in sand exportation, to stop threatening activists.”​

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