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Blaze ravages protected Pailin forest

MORE than 1,000 hectares of protected forest land in Pailin, Kampot and Siem Reap provinces have been destroyed by forest fires in the last 30 days, and all three fires are suspected to have been caused by human activity, officials said Sunday.

None of the fires led to any reported casualties.

The biggest of the three fires, in Pailin, raged for three full weeks – from February 16 to March 8, said Sous Siyat, the governor of Pailin town. He said the blaze ripped through 966 hectares of protected forest land at the base of Keav mountain, adding that the area’s remote location and numerous land mines made combating the flames impossible at first.

“We couldn’t put the fire out when it started, because reaching the area would have taken such a long time,” Sous Siyat said.

Kong Doung, director of the provincial Information Department, said 12 houses were destroyed.

He said officials believed the fire had been caused by villagers burning trees to claim land, a practice he said he was trying to discourage.

“I’ve spoken with local authorities and addressed citizens over the radio, asking them to stop burning trees down to claim habitable land,” Kong
Doung said. “We fear more fires will occur if this doesn’t stop, especially now, while we’re in the dry season.”

The illegal burning of trees to expand plots of land is also believed to have caused a fire that destroyed 50 hectares of protected forest in Siem Reap’s Angkor National Park, said officials at the Apsara Authority, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with the media.

Bokor National Park in Kampot was the site of a March 3 fire that began after residents left burning refuse unattended.

The fire destroyed 4 hectares of protected forest land that was home to hundreds of banana trees before park staff and employees at a nearby hotel successfully extinguished it, said Yang Phyrum, the park’s director.



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