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Protected forest ‘is finished’

Protected forest ‘is finished’

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A tree in Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary.

In the latest government-backed appropriation of protected land, nearly 20,000 hectares of the Boeung Per wildlife sanctuary have been reclassified as state private land for agro-industrial development.

Two sub-decrees, obtained by The Post this week and initialed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 22, officially reclassified the 19,829 hectares located in the Romny commune of Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district without naming the companies that had been approved to develop the site.

It follows an additional four sub-decrees that reclassified almost 30,000 hectares within the Kulen Promtep wildlife sanctuary, north of Boeung Per.

The decision came less than a month after community representatives convened in Rovieng district to express concern over a series of large economic land concessions they claim are decimating the wildlife sanctuary and the people who rely on its natural resources.

Many residents in and around the sanctuary, including members of the Kui ethnic minority, have been unable to collect the resin and other non-timber products which sustain their livelihood, said Chhut Vuthy, director of the Natural Resources Protection Group.

“The people are trying to protect the forest, they’ve asked the government for help, but all their complaints are ignored,” he said yesterday.         

Established by Royal Decree in 2003, the sanctuary is believed to encompass 242,500 hectares of forest stretching over four districts in Kampong Thom province and one district in Preah Vihear province.  
Chhut Vuthy added that, along with the valuable resin trees, Boeung Per supports populations of fishing cat, muntjac deer, and other threatened species.

Thuk Kroeun Vutha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said yesterday that the government had assessed the impact and concluded that the reclassification did not affect the wildlife sanctuary.  “This area is a degraded forest,” he contended.

Noun Skun, 60, a representative of the Preah Vihear Community Network for Action, claimed that at least eight companies have received concessions within the sanctuary.  “With this latest 20,000 hectare reclassification, Boeung Per is finished,” he said.     

Four of the companies - Mekong Rubber Co, Sovanpaum Co, Try Pheap Import Export Co Ltd and An Mady Group Co Ltd, - have already begun clearing concession land to make way for large rubber plantations, said Chhut Vuthy.  

“At least six trucks filled with timber are leaving the site per day,” he said, adding that, “some of the companies have cleared nearly 100 percent of their land”.

Two of the companies involved may be linked by more than business.  Lim Heng, a representative of An Mady Group Co Ltd, confirmed that company owner, Okhna An Mady, is the father of the Sovanapaum Co’s owner.  Neither Oum Mara, the provincial governor of Preah Vihear province, nor deputy governor Sar Thavy could be contacted.

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