Experts and relevant authorities in Banteay Meanchey province are jointly reviewing and preparing a conservation plan for Phnom Pongro, located in Serei Saophoan town’s Kampong Svay commune, in order to designate it a hilly natural resource conservation site and possibly a tourist attraction.

Deputy governor Ly Sary arrived at the Phnom Pongro area on February 7 to inspect some of its more than 1,576ha of land.

Ly Sary told relevant authorities to continue to cooperate in conducting a practical review and in researching legal documents in order to facilitate management of the site and be able to issue title deeds to residents to any level specified in sub-decrees.

“We urge all working groups to continue to disseminate information to stakeholders, including local people, in order to better understand the legal aspects and legal instruments related to the environment and natural resources. We all work together to protect, conserve and sustainably manage natural resources in protected areas for the great benefit of future generations and all of humanity,” he said.

Sum Chankea, a coordinating officer for rights group ADHOC in Banteay Meanchey, said Phnom Pongro is an area rich in mineral resources and ancient temples, as well as ancient irrigation canals that the people living near them depend on.

“If it is turned into a conservation area or converted into historical eco-tourism site, it would be very good because the area is located near the provincial town with easy access to roads,” he said.

He noted that at present Phnom Pongro is fenced off with mining or quarrying activities conducted by licensed companies owned by “well-connected” people.

If the province wants to designate it a conservation area, we congratulate them on the preservation of state land. But we do not know if it is only the province or the ministry that will protect it. If it is only by that province, then we are afraid that the place will later become private again because the business owners who have taken control of the area are all powerful people,” he said.

Sek Sokhom, spokesman for the provincial administration, confirmed that in the past Phnom Pongro was protected by the local authorities and the environment ministry and provincial department to preserve and maintain the natural resources in the area, where mining was also prohibited.

He said there are natural resources and ancient temples around Phnom Pongro, so all the relevant authorities have met to prepare to support this hilly area to be a natural resource conservation site and a tourist attraction as well.

He added that all of the hills in the province, not just Phnom Pongro, have been quarried for materials to build infrastructure in the local villages and communes, and that while there are some problems between miners and conservationists, the authorities have already tried to solve those problems.

“As for the construction of the fence, it is not that the company took the hill but only because the firm has a site at that location. They built the fence to protect their materials.

“I am not only talking about Phnom Pongro in Banteay Meanchey province, there are many other hills that have minerals and natural resources for the future. However, digging a quarry and building a fence around it couldn’t have been done on their own, they must have applied to the Department of Mines and Energy for a licence,” he added.