Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Canal 94 Residents Fear Flooding From Sand Filling, Four Villages Submit Petition

Villagers gather at Kandal provincial hall to submit a petition to stop the airport developer from filling the canal which may affect their houses during the rainy season, March 27, 2024. (CamboJA/Phon Sothyroth)
Villagers gather at Kandal provincial hall to submit a petition to stop the airport developer from filling the canal which may affect their houses during the rainy season, March 27, 2024. (CamboJA/Phon Sothyroth)

About 100 villagers from Kandal Steung district and Takhmao town gathered at the Kandal provincial hall to submit a petition to governor Kong Sophorn on Wednesday morning.

They are seeking the authority’s intervention to solve their issue after the new Phnom Penh International Airport developer Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp Ltd resumed filling the canal behind their houses with sand. Last week, the workers attempted to erect border pillars but were not successful because the villagers protested and removed them.

In the petition, the villagers asked that the sand be dug out from the canal as they are concerned about the impact on their homes. They are afraid that the blocked waterways may harm their lives, especially that of young children and elderly folks, during the rainy season.

The petition was signed by residents from four villages, Ampov Prey, Svay Prey and Royong in Kandork commune, which is in Kandal Steung district and Ach Kok village in Kampong Samnanh commune in Takhmao town.

Oung Sim, who is from Ampov Prey village, where she has lived since 2000, said this was the third time she submitted a petition to seek Kandal governor’s intervention. During the first submission, the villagers asked the authority why they sprayed eviction signs on their houses. In the second submission, they asked the provincial governor to develop on the site but nothing came of it. 

The residents, who stood outside the provincial hall for nearly an hour, were urged to attend an impromptu meeting with Kandal Steung deputy governor Svay Mengly, which lasted one hour.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the villagers said the officials promised them that they would visit the area soon although no specific time was provided. Villager Sim mentioned that the authority negotiated with the company to suspend the construction following their Wednesday morning petition, and asked them to calm down.

“We can calm down for now, but if the company continues to pour sand [into the canal] which [impacts] people’s houses, we cannot calm down. That’s why he said he negotiated with the company to suspend [the activity],” she said.

Sim asked the deputy governor to expedite his visit so that he can see exactly what is happening on the ground. If there is no solution, she said, people will go to the provincial hall again.

“We’ll go back to our base and wait to see if they find a solution for us. If they don’t, we will come here again,” Sim said.

Villagers gather at Kandal provincial hall to submit a petition to stop the airport developer from filling the canal which may affect their houses during the rainy season, March 27, 2024. (CamboJA/Phon Sothyroth)

Sok Chenda, another victim of the new airport project, said she will not believe the authority’s promise as yet because they have asked for an intervention for other things in the past but there were no solutions.

That said, she hopes that the authorities will keep their promise on this matter because the company has already filled the canal with sand and put up border posts, causing fear and anxiety in people. She asked the authorities to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

“I want him to come today because we’re very worried. They [company] are pouring sand day and night everyday. It’s really very worrying because there is no limit. They’re filling up [the canal] as they please without telling people,” she said. 

“Previously, we had canals on both sides. When the water flow was strong, three to four houses were swept away. Now the other side of the canal has been filled. What’s going to happen to people’s houses? The sand that they are dumping in the canal is higher than the road where people live.”

Additionally, she said, villagers want to stay put in their village, refusing to move anywhere because of the road development there which makes it easy for them to travel, conduct business and is close to the downtown area.

No other requests were made by the people during the meeting besides the urgent intervention by the authorities, Chenda shared.

Chiv Kok Say, in charge of land acquisitions for the $1.5 billion airport project, told CamboJA​ that he learnt about the gathering and petition by the people on Wednesday morning, albeit later.

“We knew this. Our team also informed me. Please take note that the land belongs to the company, not the people. It’s not public land encroachment. We do not have the right to encroach public land, as I’ve said before,” he said.

Kok Say added that he will cooperate with the authorities if there is a request. “I will explain what actually occurred. I will cooperate with them.”

When asked when the company would provide a solution to the resident, he replied: “I can’t give an exact time for the solution. Please ask the provincial authorities who have the right to answer.”

Kandal Steung district governor Ouch Saroeun could not be reached for comment.

Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn told CamboJA on Wednesday afternoon that he knew about the issue that happened earlier that day.

“I received the information. We will cooperate with the experts and continue to study this case,” he said.

“As the authority, we have a responsibility to protect citizens and will not allow them to be affected​​ and lose their benefits,” Sophorn pledged.

When asked when the solution will be provided to residents, he said it would “follow the legal process”.

“I cannot confirm the exact time when the solution will be reached [but] it will be in accordance with legal procedure. We will continue to address the issue with the residents and wait for the results from the expert’s study,” he added.

Am Sam Ath, operations director of human rights NGO Licadho, said the residents are worried about flooding during the rainy season because the canal close to their houses has been filled. 

“To prevent [flooding] and avoid potential problems, the authorities should address the issue as soon as possible,” Sam Ath added.