The Ministry of Environment is studying a recently-discovered site filled with thousands of natural stone columns in Mondulkiri province’s Nam Lea Mountain in Lames village, Bou Sra commune, Pich Chreada district.
The area is projected to be turned into an eco-tourism and heritage conservation area.
The site was found on January 2 after commune police officials and members of an indigenous community caught three Vietnamese nationals allegedly conspiring with soldiers and local residents to secretly collect the stone columns to be sold in Vietnam.
One natural stone column is worth between $3,000 and $4,000, claimed the community members.
Keo Sopheak, the director of the provincial Department of Environment, told The Post on Sunday that after the initial study, the Ministry of Environment’s heritage officials found a rich diversity of flora and fauna that needs immediate preservation.
“We will cooperate with authorities, the provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts and the Ministry of Environment’s Department of Heritage so we can move forward with the plan of turning the site into a heritage conservation area,” said Sopheak.
Sopheak said more studies will be conducted in the area as it sits on the corridors of Sen Monorom, Pech Chreada and O’Raing districts, covering 50,000ha.
“Once the Department of Heritage concludes the study, the minister could appoint other working groups to study its eco-tourism potential, as well as disseminate conservation rules and regulations to residents. This includes a ban on collecting stone columns,” he said.
In a Facebook post, the Ministry of Environment said thousands of natural stone columns, measuring 40cm-60m by 2m, have been found in the Nam Lea Mountain.
Nam Lea Wildlife Sanctuary director Vuth Sarom said: “The initial study shows that besides stone columns, the area also has various types of trees such as roka, chrey leap, neang nuon, thnong, sralao, chheuteal, bamboo and so on.
“The area is also home to many wild animals.”
Forest activist Kroeung Tola expressed delight upon hearing the initiatives of the ministries of Culture and Fine Arts; and Environment but warned that an okhna plans to seek permission to possess and develop the area, which could lead to a dispute with the indigenous community.
“I am happy that they are willing to protect the area but villagers have expressed concern over potential bidding among private companies and the okhna,” he said.
Although Sopheak said he had not heard of any okhna expressing interest over management of the area, he clarified that the Ministry of Environment has the right to allow individuals to develop the area for eco-tourism.
Ministry of Environment secretary of state and spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the working groups will prepare a comprehensive report about the site and seek government assistance so the area could be classified as a heritage conservation area.
“My ministry has previously coordinated with the Ministry of Culture to successfully conserve other cultural heritage sites,” he stressed.