Mangroves in Sihanoukville are increasingly under threat.
FISHING community in Sihanoukville has become deadlocked in its battle with authorities to redress the seizure of portions of a coastal mangrove forest that has put their livelihoods in peril, according to community leaders.
Sihanoukville's deputy governor Spoang Sarath seized 13 hectares of the 9,000-hectare mangrove forest in April this year, according to a leader within the fishing community who requested anonymity, and ordered the clearing and filling in of three hectares of the forest to reclaim land from the sea for future development.
"We want to get this resolved and to recover the community forest because it is vital to the poor people who rely on it," said the leader.
He said that cutting down the trees and filling in the area with earth would destroy the area for fishing. "We have tried to warn [the workers], but they didn't listen because their orders came from a high-ranking official."
The trees were given to the community by Nao Thuok, the director general of the government's Fisheries Department, in July 2007, said Kit Chanratha, the deputy chief of the mangrove fishing community. "We've been waiting since before the elections in July for the provincial fisheries department to stop the destruction of the forest."
Spoang Sarath denied involvement with the seizure and clearing of the land. "Some people may have taken advantage of the recent elections to seize the land because they thought we would be too busy to respond," he told the Post. He added that the issue would be resolved once the new government elected during last month's national elections was in place.
For the small fishing community, however, the damage has been done. "Some of the land that has been cleared and filled has already been titled to new owners," said Sin Setharoth, deputy chief of the provincial fisheries department.