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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rangers leave Bokor Natl Park

Rangers leave Bokor Natl Park

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090506_04.jpg

Wildlife Alliance has suspended funding for park ranger operations at Bokor National Park, where a private developer is currently building an international hotel and casino.

Photo by: Mark Roy

A workers'-eye view of a cement factory on Bokor Mountain.

THE WILDLIFE Alliance has called on the Ministry of Environment to explain why it handed over the park ranger training station at Bokor National Park to a private developer, which resulted in the rangers being excluded from the park.

The government granted the Sokha Hotel Group a 99-year lease for a US$1 billion development at the Bokor hill station in January 2008.

The Sokha Hotel Group said when the deal was announced that the development, to include an international hotel and casino, would take 15 years to complete.

In the meantime, approximately 50 rangers who formerly worked in the park have been moved to its edge, where they work from a building on the road that leads to the entrance.  

Longtime supporter

The Wildlife Alliance and other NGOs began supporting ranger patrols within the park in 2003.

But Tim Redford, deputy director of field operations for the Wildlife Alliance, said Wednesday that the group had suspended funding for operations in Bokor.

INCIDENTALLY, WHEN TOURISTS ARE going UP THERE... IT DISTURBS OUR WORK.

The Wildlife Alliance had supported training and salaries for rangers as well as the contruction of a ranger base on Bokor Mountain. The support had also allowed for the provision of trucks, radios and other equipment.
The Wildlife Alliance would not confirm when the rangers left or were removed from the park. But in an email to the Post, Redford wrote, "For now, though, I can say we have ceased all funding and support for Bokor until the MoE [Ministry of Environment] explains how they can turn over the entire park, World Bank/USAID training centre and equipment, and numerous other important topics without prior stakeholder discussions."

Access denied

Unfettered road access to Bokor National Park is currently being denied to tourists as well as park rangers.

Svay Vuthy, assistant to Sok Kong, chairman of the Sokha Hotel Group, said the road was being rebuilt and had been closed because of concerns about potential danger to tourists.  

"We are working with machines like excavators and breaking stones, so we are concerned it might cause danger," he said. "We occasionally open the road for tourists during the traditional ceremony."

Svay Vuthy said the Sokha Hotel Group had originally planned to spend two to three years building the road but that work had been delayed.

"We have been working on the project so far for about a year and have faced difficulties with fog and rain, so the project is running a bit more slowly," he said. "The whole project was planned to take 15 years, but we will wait to see the real situation. Incidentally, when tourists are going up there, if there are tourists or cars driving up the hill, it disturbs our work."

Nem Sinuon, director of Kampot's Tourism Department, said the closure of the road to Bokor Mountain had upset many tourists.

"We want the company to open one side of the road so tourists can still visit the mountain," he said. "We do not know when the road will be opened, and we have received lots of complaints from tourists about the road being blocked. They visit Kampot because they want to see Bokor Mountain. They are not satisfied with the road closure and do not want to see the other places we recommend."

The road was opened briefly by developers for six days during Khmer New Year.

It is now closed again, and access to the area continues to be tightly controlled.

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