The Koh Kong provincial authority on Monday ordered the temporary halt to the filling-in of canals at the Tatai Wildlife Sanctuary in Khemarak Phoumin City’s Smach Meanchey commune while an environmental impact assessment is being conducted.

Provincial environment department director Mam Phalla told The Post on Tuesday that the development activities, including the filling-in of the canals in the sanctuary, had persisted since 2007.

He said though the sanctuary is a protected area, some parts of it are open to development that has no major impact on the environment.

“In practice, the area is open. But for filling-in activities, it is necessary for [developers] to obtain legal permits from relevant authorities and specialists. The authorities know which area is open and which part is off-limits,” he said.

Phalla said the area will be closed to development until after a thorough inspection and assessment have been made.

“In this area, the authorities have not officially issued hard titles [to developers].

“On Monday, we collaborated with city and commune authorities in inspecting the area and decided to order a temporary halt to all filling-in activities until further notice,” he said.

Provincial deputy governor Sok Sothy confirmed to The Post on Tuesday that the area in question is located in a conservation zone in Khemarak Phoumin City and protected by the government’s sub-decree.

He said before any development activities can be carried out, the developers need prior permits stating the area is not located in a protected zone.

“So the provincial taskforces will need to conduct a thorough inspection first because not all mangrove areas are in the protected zone,” he said.

Sothy said the government had previously issued legal land titles to villagers in the Mondul Seima protected zone to let them inhabit and develop the area.

“But if the authorities find anyone encroaching on a strictly protected zone, they will take action,” he said.

Mean Prom Mony, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc told The Post on Tuesday he had witnessed development activities in the area, including the clearing of mangrove forest and filling-in of canals, and claimed he had not seen any action taken by the authorities.

“The authorities only start inspecting when problems arise. But even then, they wouldn’t take any action against the offenders. They fail to arrest those who grab state land including coastal land and mangrove forest.

“But if an offence involves local villagers, the authorities would come to clear their farmland and make arrests,” he said.