The district of Samlot in western Cambodia is well known for its association with
the Khmer Rouge, illegal logging, and gem mining. Now it could instead become associated
with conservation: a signing ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh on August 7 means
that 21,000 hectares of forest have now been flagged as a protected area.
Funding for the project came from Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who donated $1.5
million. Cambodian Vision in Development (CVD), a local NGO, will manage the money.
Jolie has already established a project in Samlot through CVD to provide assistance
to 800 people-disabled former Khmer Rouge soldiers and their families.
CVD's executive director, Mounh Sarath, said a further 39,000 hectares of land had
been given protected area status in neighboring Pailin, which is also peopled by
former Khmer Rouge soldiers.
He says the two sites are the first protected zones in either Samlot or Pailin.
"This $1.5 million of funding will start the first project, which will take
five years," Sarath said of the Samlot and Pailin zones. "If the first
project succeeds, we will then begin a second [preservation] project which will take
The signing ceremony took place at the Ministry of Environment (MoE). Minister Mok
Mareth said he was happy to cooperate to protect the two sites.
"If we don't protect this forest, it will impact not only the people in Battambang,
but also the Tonle Sap," Mareth said. "We need other partners to help us
to protect and to preserve the forest and the animals."
Sarath said CVD needed to partner with the MoE as it had more expertise in managing
environmental projects, particularly through its Department of Nature Conservation
(DNC). He said CVD had prior experience working closely with other government departments
in the province, including health, social affairs and education.
"Our strategy is to develop the area by improving the local economy, and educating
people to know the value of the forests and wild animals and the benefits of conservation
programs," he said. The project will also pay for the training of forest rangers.
Chay Samith, DNC's director, believed his department would cooperate well with CVD.
"I hope this project will be successful by encouraging those people who used
to hunt, log and dig for gems to do other work instead," he said. "To achieve
that, I hope we will be joined by the local authorities, local people, and other
domestic and international NGOs."