The Mondulkiri Provincial Administration has requested the Ministry of Interior to allocate more than 3,000ha of land in the Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment, for the construction of a new border gate and administrative infrastructure.

According to a letter sent to the interior minister on February 5, the land would be designated a special economic development zone along the border. The land is in Pech Chreada district's Bou Sra commune.

The letter noted: “In the current situation, the provincial administration would like to manage and protect the land and avoid loss due to encroachment and illegal forest occupation.”

Provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said in the letter that the old Nam Lear border gate is surrounded by land concessions, which the government has authorised a company, Kovi Phama, to plant rubber plantations. There is no land for an administrative area, and traffic must travel through the rubber plantations, which will have serious side effects.

Sam Eang said: “The provincial administration plans to maintain the land and propose to relocate the old border gate to a new location more than 2km away in order to improve the border gate’s administrative infrastructure and turn the area into a special economic zone.”

He added that the administrative infrastructure of the new border gate will contribute to national economic growth and improve the living standards of the people in the border areas.

According to the letter, the proposed land will be used to construct various projects, such as residential, industrial, and agricultural areas and a reforestation farm.

Provincial environment department director Keo Sopheak told The Post on April 26 that the proposal had not yet been confirmed.

Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak and environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to provide details, saying they needed more time to look into the matter.

Mondulkiri’s Indigenous People Network coordinator Kreung Tola said if the government granted the request, it would amount to a nod for deforestation of a protected area with scarce resources.

“The proposal is not honest, and if there is a unanimous decision, it would be like destroying the land and the natural resources that remain in the sanctuary,” Tola said. “It also violates the rights of indigenous peoples, because this place is the people’s rotation rice field.”