Sixty community representatives from Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom provinces expressed concern yesterday over a string of recent economic land concessions granted within the bounds of the Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary.
At a press conference held in Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district yesterday, they claimed the concessions were having a negative impact on the livelihoods of thousands of families living in and around the protected forest.
Noun Skun, a representative from Preah Vihear Community Network for Action, said yesterday that villagers, many of whom belong to the Kui ethnic minority, depend on the collection and sale of resin and other forest products.
He said that developments and deforestation associated with the land concessions were limiting villagers’ access to the forest, adding, “life is more and more difficult because I am not allowed to go the forest to collect resin.”
Established by Royal Decree in 2003, the sanctuary encompasses 242,500 hectares of forest stretching over four districts in Kampong Thom province and one district in Preah Vihear province.
The forest is estimated to contain around one million resin trees, in addition to populations of fishing cat, muntjac deer, and other threatened species.
“We are concerned because each of the nine companies has been granted a concession of around 10,000 hectares,” said Noun Skun.
Three of those companies, Mekong Rubber Co, Sovanpaum Co, and Try Pheap Import Export Co Ltd, have already begun clearing forest to make way for large rubber plantations, said Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resource Protection Group NGO.
“The activity of the companies is non-stop,” he said.
“No less than four or five hectares are being cleared per day by more than 60 bulldozers.”
Chut Wutty said that Kui community leaders had been approached last week by representatives of Try Pheap who offered to pay them 10,000 riel (US$2.50) for every felled resin tree, adding that wood from the trees can be worth upwards of $180 per cubic metre on the international market.
When the villagers refused the offer they were denied any further meetings with the company, he said, and alleged that some companies were using armed guards to keep locals off concession land.
“The definition of a wildlife sanctuary is that the forest should be healthy and protected; everything that is happening here goes against that,” he said.
Kampong Thom provincial governor Chhun Chhorn said yesterday that Boeung Per fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment but “some companies have accepted villagers as workers, providing them with housing, food, and money.”
Environment Minister Mok Mareth could not be reached for comment last night.
Contact details for the companies were not available yesterday.