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New forest dam planned

New forest dam planned

A 9,100-hectare land concession,  earmarked for a hydropower project, has been granted to a Chinese company in protected Koh Kong province forest. The firm has already been given land that appears to far exceed Cambodia’s legal limit.

Union Development Group is now developing a 36,000-hectare land concession for a tourism project in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts, and has now been given the green light to construct a
hydropower dam.

A 2008 sub-decree awarded the company the 36,000 hectares to develop a US$5 billion tourism zone. The zone is set to displace 1,149 families and seems to violate a 10,000-hectare limit on land concessions set out in article 59 of the land law.

A new sub-decree, obtained  by the Post yeterday and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, was issued on August 12. It reclassifies the protected forest area from state to public land, paving the way for Union Development Group to build a hydrodam of unspecified capacity and electrical output.

Nhol Thon, director of Botum Sakor protected national park, said yesterday the company’s tourism project had led to the conservation and regeneration of forest, not its degradation.

“The government has the right to take some of the national park if needed, it is not wrong,” he said.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said yesterday that “before the government gave rights to the company to develop, it allowed expert officers to come down to the field and conduct clear research already”.

But some fear the company’s real intention is to log forest. Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, estimated yesterday some 50 to 60 percent of forest in the company’s tourism concession had now been cleared. “You can see in that area it’s mostly mountain and rock. They don’t have good soil on it. And if they say  they are developing all these things it’s a trick,” he said.

Some villagers, he said, had accepted relocation offers while others had refused to leave and continued to negotiate for a better deal. A representative of Union Development Group declined to comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAVID BOYLE

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