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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN cash awaited for opening of national park at Kirirom

UN cash awaited for opening of national park at Kirirom

S ecretary of State for Environment Mok Mareth said he hopes the country's first

new national park in 25 years will be opened in the next few weeks.

The

Ministry is hopeful of obtaining funds from the UN Development Program to

inaugurate the park in the timber-rich Kirirom area of Kompong Speu

province.

The park would be the first of 23 protected areas proposed

under a decree by King Norodom Sihanouk, which would cover 15 per cent of the

country's land mass.

A ministry official said that the legal status of

the royal order was unclear as it was uncertain whether the King had the power

to do so under the new constitution.

The decree proposed the protected

areas would cover about 3.5 million hectares (9.45 million acres) and would be

divided into four different categories: national parks, wildlife sanctuaries,

protected landscapes - such as the area around Angkor Wat - and multiple use

areas, such as turning Tonle Sap into a haven for water sports.

A royal

priority has reportedly been placed on declaring Kirirom, the coastal hillside

resort at Phnom Bokor and the environs of the major naval base at Ream, Kom-pong

Som as protected areas.

However ministry advisor Greig Woodsworth warned

the decree may be difficult to implement.

He said: "It's not just a

question of drawing lines on a map ... these things cost millions of dollars to

implement."

Analysts also stressed the problem of mines and Khmer Rouge

guerrillas in these areas, notably around Bokor and Kirirom, which also has a

government military base and is off-limits to visitors without

permission.

Co-Premiers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Mr. Hun Sen are

expected to open the park at Kirirom in Kompong Speu province, Mok Mareth said.

He added that it was expected to take place before the King returns to the

country.

Ranariddh has reportedly taken a political interest in seeing

Kirirom - a wildlife reserve of 81,500 hectares (200,000 acres) during the 1960s

- declared the first national park.

Mr Woodsworth's colleague Philippe Le

Billion said that in comparison, "they are not very receptive about

Rattanakiri".

The province covers a much larger area and boasts a much

greater ethnic mix and diversity in wildlife, including the rare

kou-prey.

Secretary of State Mok Mareth, who complained about the lack of

legislation to control environmental damage, said the new Kirirom Park would be

nearly twice as big as the old one, covering more than 150,000 hectares (370,500

acres).

Under the scheme, a resort town in the rolling pine forested

hills at the tail-end of the Cardamom Mountain would be restored to its former

grandeur of the King's previous reign.

The King had planned to build a

model city at Kirirom, but today all that remains are the shells of some 80

houses overlooked by the monarch's own old villa.

"It's a beautiful area,

with huge tourist potential," said Woods-worth, who received permission to visit

Kirirom and its picturesque lakes last week.

Mareth said logging, which

is devastating other areas of Cambodia, would be banned in the national

parks.

Woodsworth said of Kiri-rom: "Most of the large stuff has been cut

down for export, but it's not a catastrophe yet."

The forests are also

rich in wildlife, including tigers and elephants, Woodsworth

said.

Wildlife, including leopards, Malayan sun bears, an abundance of

birds and wild-fowl and possibly one-horned rhinos, are to be found elsewhere in

the country, particularly in the northeast provinces of Mondulkiri and

Rattanakiri.

The ministry wants to establish a national park at Virachey

in Rattanakiri and a wildlife preserve in the virgin rain forest of Phnom Samkos

in Koh Kong.

The search for the elusive kouprey, meanwhile is on in the

northeast, where the king established six reserves in the 1960s with the sole

aim of protecting endangered native species.

Le Billon said they had

reports of a group of seven koupreys, often dubbed the jungle cow, on the

borders of Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri.

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