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500 hectares of mangrove forest decimated

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Snails such as those pictured live in abundance in mangrove forests and provide food and a source of income to villagers.

Despite promisies of protection from the Koh Kong governor, 500 hectares of mangrove

forest in Pack Khlang commune have been destroyed, threatening an important coastal

ecosystem and robbing villagers of their primary means of income.

In December 2004, Koh Kong Provincial Governor Yuth Phouthang announced that mangrove

forest 701 in Koh Yo was to be preserved.

"Phouthang absolutely prohibited any kind of action effecting the area,"

said Em Sim Yon, deputy Koh Kong governor in charge of environment, by phone on July

11. The clearing in Pack Khlang falls within this conservation area.

Though stakes marking the clearing are labeled with the name of Bun My, the commune

chief of Pack Khlang, he denies any wrongdoing.

"I don't know why my name is on the pole," My said. "I do not know

who cleared the trees."

My said the forest was cleared before Phouthang's 2004 announcement, but villagers

disagree.

Sou Neave, a 55-year-old resident of Phum Pe village, who once relied on the fertile

forest for her survival, said the cutting started two or three months ago.

Another villager, 45-year-old Tith Chhoung, also said the clearing happened recently.

"Powerful people hired locals to clear the forests," Chhoung said. "When

I asked the village chief to intervene, the village chief replied that he did not

dare because he was afraid of being punished by the powerful people."

Deputy Governor Sim Yon said that the destruction of the forest will not be investigated

because Provincial Governor Yuth Phouthang's first announcement was not official.

"We are now cooperating with [conservation NGO] WildAid to make a second announcement,

and after that, persons involved in clearing the forests inside the conservation

area will be confronted by the law," Sim said.

In a July 12 interview, WildAid's Delphine Vann Roe said she was not aware that the

area had been cleared, but that she will look into the incident.

The mangrove forest that once stretched from Cham Yeam village to Pack Khlang village

was a rich source of fish, snails, and crabs, which provided food and income for

residents who harvested marine life, Chhoung said.

Before the forest's destruction, villagers could work for just a few hours and earn

from 10,000 to 20,000 riel by collecting snails and catching crabs, but now the snails

and crab are mostly gone, Chhuong said.

"I have nothing to do now that the mangrove trees are cleared, and I have no

food to eat," said Tatch Saveourn, a 59-year-old fisherman from Pack Khlang.

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