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Kirirom Park under assault

Kirirom Park under assault

THE Kirirom National Park famed for its environmental beauty and potential as a tourist

destination is under threat by rampant logging and land-grabbing in the area.

The Park has been invaded by loggers who are cutting the area's distinctive pine

trees and "armed groups" poaching land which has led to a state of anarchy,

said Sabou Bacha, under-secretary of state for the Ministry of Environment.

"Kirirom is encountering anarchy. People have rushed in, as have armed groups

to take land for their own," Bacha said.

Hundreds of pine trees in a 30-40ha area have been felled, he said, adding that the

park's eco-system would be destroyed if prompt measures were not taken to stop the

rampage.

"Kirirom is a national park and also a watershed area. Without those pine trees,

rain will erode the soil and bring flooding to lower areas, such as Kompong Speu

province," Bacha said, adding "the pure atmosphere there will also be gone."

Located about 100 km southwest of the capital, Kirirom was given National Park status

by a Royal Decree in November, 1993.

But 1,550 of the 35,000ha conserved was designated Oct 1995 to grow tea and coffee

- a deal criticized by environmentalists.

"If you get on top of the hill and have a look down, you'll think what was given

shouldn't have been given [as a concession] at all. It's a vast portion of land,"

said a ministry official who asked not to be named.

A ministry delegation has been looking at allegations that the tea planting company

owned by Sar Ut has engaged in logging and selling of land in violation of its agreement

with the ministry, Bacha said.

The agreement provides the company with the right to manage the old tea plantation

on condition the park's habitat is preserved.

Bacha said the company's deal would be canceled if found in breach of the agreement.

But Sar Ut denied his company's involvement in logging and land sales which he says

have been carried out by soldiers on orders from commanders in Kompong Speu.

Soldiers have posted property signs in the designated area where he said no development

project - not to mention logging or land sale - could take place without the government's

greenlight.

"I am unable to do anything to stop them [soldiers] because they are armed.

If I breached the agreement, it would be like suicide for me," Ut said.

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