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Forest official raises alarm on mine plan

Forest official raises alarm on mine plan

Koh Kong province
A FORESTRY Administration official said yesterday that a massive titanium mine proposed for Koh Kong province would threaten natural resources and local livelihoods, and vowed to pass on his concerns to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Vann Sophana, in charge of the Forestry Administration’s Coastal Inspectorate, met with villagers in Thma Bang district who stand to be affected by the mine, which the NGO Wildlife Alliance has said would cover 15,000 to 20,000 hectares.

On Monday, Wildlife Alliance Country Director Suwanna Gauntlett said the mine would threaten 144,000 hectares of protected forest in the district, as well as ecotourism projects that support 150 families in Chi Pat commune.

She also said the mine would doom plans to implement a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme that NGOs and officials had been hoping to launch in 2011. The scheme allows polluting companies in developed countries to offset their carbon emissions by paying developing countries to protect forests.

After yesterday’s meeting, Vann Sophana indicated that he shared these concerns.

“Firstly, the area is overlapping with forests protected by Sub-decree No 65 of the Royal Government of Cambodia,” he said, and added that the project seemed to be in conflict with a government resolution declaring that mining poses a serious threat to forest coverage.

He also expressed concern about the potential loss of the REDD scheme, which Wildlife Alliance estimates could bring between US$48 million and $85 million of revenue to Cambodia over the next 30 years.

“If this mine happens, the REDD project will not happen,” Vann Sophana said. “The REDD project is very important because it protects natural resources while selling credits to developed industries – it is an industry with no smoke.”

During her presentation to villagers, Gauntlett said the United Khmer Group, which has reportedly obtained one of two required permits for the project, had informed her organisation that Chinese companies planned to build another three mines covering 100,000 hectares of nearby forest if the first mine proved successful.

Phorn Thou, representative of the United Khmer Group, said yesterday that his company had no intention of harming any villagers in the area.
“We want to reduce the poverty in that area, and we want to help them by giving them jobs,” he said. “Our goal is Khmer helping Khmer.”

Chi Pat commune chief Uy Iaiy and the chiefs of four separate villages were unified in their opposition to the mine. “With the mining company, I’m not sure if villagers can get a job there or not,” said Hot Pov, the chief of Teuk Laork village.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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