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ACU urged to probe Phnom Tamao land irregularities

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Staff members at the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Centre under the Forestry Administration patrol the Phnom Tamao forest last year. PHNOM TAMAO ZOO

ACU urged to probe Phnom Tamao land irregularities

Baitong Warriors, a local environment activist group, have submitted a letter to the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) seeking an investigation into alleged irregularities concerning more than 2,000ha of the Tamao Mountain forest reserve following news of a dairy farm’s relocation to the area.

Tan Kimsour, founder of the environment watchdog, said he submitted the letter after discovering irregularities with the implementation of a government directive and after hearing an explanation from Rithy Chhor, executive director of Khmer Fresh Milk Co Ltd.

“I believe that there are a lot of irregularities occurring with the project to relocate that dairy farm and with the ownership and transfer of 800ha of land in the area of Tamao Mountain. We’ve requested that the ACU intervene because we’re afraid there may be document forgery involved with this case,” he said.

According to the celebrity activist, Rithy claimed that the company – located at the Tamao Mountain area in Takeo province’s Bati district on land that it claimed to have leased from the government – may also be a victim if there were irregularities with Directive No32 issued by the Council of Ministers on January 14, 2022.

“Actually, Khmer Fresh Milk is the only company located in the Tamao Mountain area. The firm was established with 40 per cent of its funding coming from Emerging Market Investments [EMI] from Europe and 40 per cent of funding from Nexasia from Japan and Singapore, and another 20 per cent shared by Khmer and Israeli nationals,” Kimsour quoted Rithy as saying in their recent Messenger chat.

Rithy noted in the chat that the company was established in 2018 and registered at the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC).

“Khmer Fresh Milk Co Ltd is a company receiving foreign funds so we are ineligible to purchase land. We are on a 40-year-lease agreement with the government for the 300ha of land in the Tamao Mountain area,” Rithy said. “But we find it difficult to understand the January 14 directive issued by the Council of Ministers despite many attempts [seeking clarification].”

According to the directive, the government agreed in principle to lease the 300ha in Bati district’s Kandoeng commune to the company, which had been granted the rights to use the land and develop it.

The ACU could not be reached for comment on June 13.

The investigation request came as some local media outlets reported on speculations among environmentalists that the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) would be split up and moved to locations in Siem Reap, Kampong Chhnang and Mondulkiri provinces.

PTWRC director Nhek Rattanak Pich already dismissed these rumours in a recent three-minute video posted on Facebook on May 10.

“I would like to inform the public that PTWRC has no plans to relocate to Siem Reap, Kampong Chhnang and Mondulkiri provinces. Therefore, there are no negative impacts on the wildlife and animals living here,” Rattanak Pich said.

“Sambar deer, eld’s deer, wild boars and many bird species have been released into the compound of the PTWRC recently, which spans more than 400ha within a safe enclosure in order to serve educational, conservation and breeding purposes as well as providing a means of reducing conflicts between wild animals and local communities.”

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