Company Filling in Mekong River Causes Concerns among Kandal’s Communities

Photo show the rocks that had been poured into the river in Wat Khsach Village in Areyksat Commune. Photo by Sao Phal Niseiy

Saying that the details of Khun Sea Development Group’s proposed project were opaque, local communities and activists voiced concerns over the environmental impacts and lack of transparency

PHNOM PENH--Onlookers watched as parts of the Mekong River near the Areyksat Ferry Port in Kandal Province were filled with rock to make way for a new development project.

Kong Sophoan, governor of Kandal Province, explained that Khun Sea Development Group had been awarded an area of roughly 70 hectares which the company will rent from the local government to build a satellite city project and luxury condominiums.

The rocks that had been poured into the river, he said, were to become the foundations of the project, adding that it would be similar to Koh Pich—the controversial man-made island in Phnom Penh that sits largely unoccupied.

According to Sophoan, the laying of the foundations has been approved by environmental experts from a number of institutions who have told him that the river will not be damaged in the process. He did not name the experts or the institutions they hail from.

“The implementation of this investment company’s development project has been approved by the [environmental] authorities as well as the government,” he said.

But onlookers like Sao Sarang, who is the village chief at Wat Khsach Village in Areyksat Commune, said that the rocks were being poured not just around the riverbanks as he had previously been told they would be.

“We could see that they were pouring [the rocks] directly into the river, very far from the riverbank,” he said, adding he was concerned about how the project would affect his community, especially because it now appears different from how he originally believed it would be.

It is a concern that is shared by Heng Kimkong, research and advocacy manager at the Cambodia Youth Network, who said he suspected that the government has not conducted a full study on the environmental impacts that could arise from the project.

“Even the local people don’t know about this development project,” he said, adding that that project might affect the flow of the Mekong River, as it has around other areas where the river has been filled in such as Koh Pich and Koh Nora.

“What we are concerned about in this development project is the impact on water flow of the Mekong River, which could cause flooding in Phnom Penh during the rainy season and other impacts, including loss of fish resources,” he said.

He called on the government to show the results of the environmental impact study of this development project in a transparent manner to the public to avoid any questions and concerns in the future.

Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng and Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra could not be reached for comments at press time.

The development lease was noted in an April 2019 circular from the Council of Ministers referring to a notice from Prime Minister Hun Sen granting a 50-year lease on the 70-hectare plot of state property to Khun Sea.

Phnom Penh’s water resources—most notably its lakes and wetlands—have largely been filled in for controversial development projects handed over to well-connected tycoons and often at the expense of both the environment and the local communities who depend on these water resources.

Indeed, the various instances of flooding in Phnom Penh have even prompted other government officials, along with experts and activists, to call for an end to development projects that harm the city’s lakes and rivers.

On May 8, Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor called upon all municipalities and provincial authorities to help prevent land grabbing, expressing particular concerns over precincts, canals, reservoirs, rivers, and lakes of public water.

Additional reporting by Phoung Vantha

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