Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the provincial authorities in the regions surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake to accelerate the implementation of his order to allocate some portion of the land around the lake to long-time residents relying upon it for their livelihoods.
He warned that the authorities must avoid delaying action on the matter now or risk being accused of forgetting their campaign promises now that the election is over with.
“Do it now and be practical. Don’t just say it before the election. After the election you must actually do it. Be careful or people will say you are cheating,” he said while presiding over the graduation ceremony of more than 2,000 students at the Royal School of Administration on June 13.
On May 27, the prime minister instructed authorities in six provinces – Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey – to re-evaluate the protected areas of zones two and three, which contain the wetlands surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake. He told authorities to ensure that long-time residents of communities there would not be required to relocate.
According to a report on the preliminary results of the rezoning of land around the lake that The Post received on June 7, nearly 14,000ha of farmland in zones two and three of the Tonle Sap Lake have so far been allocated by the government to some 7,000 households spread across the provinces adjacent to the lake.
Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Hun Sen told the authorities around the Tonle Sap Lake to implement his orders quickly and fulfil their responsibilities to the people.
“It is you who needs to do it, because no one knows the geography better than you do. You must allocate some part of zone three for the people,” he said. “For example, if in that area citizens are relying on 5,000 ha, then we cut those 5,000 ha for them out of zone three. We can even cut another 10 per cent of that area or a few more hectares for them to use and benefit from,” he said.
Hun Sen replied to unnamed critics and NGOs that he says recommended that all people be removed from the lake for the purposes of natural preservation.
“Please tell the organisations that recommended it to do it by themselves. In the past, some organisations have demanded that the Tonle Sap Lake be turned into whatever kind of conservation area, but I refused,” he said. “I said no, I have to allocate some portion for our citizens. If we have these few places that become community forests then let them take care of those places. They can take care of them and find firewood and catch fish there, too.”
Hun Sen reiterated that those who will benefit from this rezoning must not cut down the forests or encroach further on the wetlands around the lake.
He said that rezoning and reallocation will make the residents there feel secure about their future, rather than living there without knowing what their futures might be and that this policy was an example of practical leadership.
According to the prime minister, some of the areas around the Tonle Sap have been inhabited for a long time by the communities still present there.
He said that in the Kampog Plouk area of Prasat Bakong district in Siem Reap province the people there had lived there since the 17th century.
Hun Sen also said that the land that had been confiscated because it was under illegal occupation will be replanted with trees and those trees and forests must be protected and that the authorities and local people must jointly prevent further encroachment.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said he supported Hun Sen’s recommendations on the allocation of land to established communities around the lake.
“Because people need land for cultivation. The government promised since before the election to allocate land for them and now they are anxiously waiting to get the allocated land and land titles,” he said.
Sam Ath said he supports the establishment of a committee to allocate the land surrounding Tonle Sap Lake so that the allocation process can be carried out in a transparent and fair manner.
He said that there must also be another committee to monitor the zones around the Tonle Sap Lake to prevent further encroachment on flooded forests and the lake’s wetlands.
“Make sure this allocation goes to people who actually occupied and used the land long-term, do not let opportunists or wealthy and powerful people defraud the state and trick it into transferring state property to private ownership by them,” he said.