Kampong Nesad Samaki villagers wonder if they are holding their breath for the return of their mangrove forests.
The residents of Kampong Nesad Samaki in Kampot province say they are anxiously waiting for a letter from the Council of Ministers approving a decision by the provincial governor to return 72 hectares of mangrove forest to their community.
“I am happy with the governor’s decision to return our mangrove forest but we will not be satisfied until we receive the letter from the Council of Ministers,” community representative Kim Thy, 54, told the Post on July 7.
Thy said the community had been seeking the return of the forest since April, when he alleged that Governor Thach Khon had approved its transfer to a provincial agricultural official and three others.
“When the governor gave our land to the others they received a letter from the Council of Ministers approving the transfer and now that they have said it will be returned to us we need a letter to that effect signed by the Council of Ministers as well,” Thy said.
“We hope we are not cheated,” he said.
“There are 754 families living in Kampong Nesad Samaki and 85 percent of them rely on fishing to make a living,” Thy said, alluding to the importance of mangrove forests as breeding grounds for fish and other marine animals.
Try Chhoun, the coordinator in Kampot province for humanrights and development NGO Adhoc, said that if the community did not receive a formal letter from the Council of Ministers up to 600 residents planned to march to Phnom Penh to ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to resolve the issue.
“They don’t want to make trouble but they do want the governor to honor his promise to the community last month to return the land,” she said.
Deputy provincial governor South Yea said the community had been happy to receive a formal letter from Khon in mid-June announcing the return of their land.
“I know they are waiting and worrying about a formal letter from the Council of Ministers, but I do not know when it will be signed,” Yea said.
Meanwhile, concerns have dissipated in another nearby fishing community since it received a letter from the Council of Ministers in mid-June approving the return of 21 hectares of mangrove forest that was transferred in April to the same four people who received 72 hectares of Kampong Nesad Samaki land.
“We were delighted to get our land back,” said Lan Saman, 64, a vice-chairman of the Lork community, about 1,500 meters from Kampong Nesad Samaki.
“The Lork community has a total of 366 hectares, of which 30 hectares is mangrove forest; they wanted 21 hectares of the mangroves but in the middle of last month they announced it would be given back to our community,” Saman said.
“The mangrove forests are very important natural resources and we must protect them because they produce many benefits for the people and for marine life.”
Most of the 360 families in the community depended on fishing to make a living, Saman said.