Some 50 villagers representing Phnong ethnic communities in Mondulkiri protested two days in a row last week against the provincial land department’s decision to list parts of Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary as private state land, paving the way for a company to clear it.
Mega First Corporation was granted an economic land concession (ELC) of more than 9,000 hectares in 2012. At the time, the land was considered state-public property, a designation that meant it could not be fundamentally changed, a hurdle that will be removed if the provincial land department’s decision stands.
The area overlaps with an estimated 4,000 hectares of community forest inside Phnom Nam Lyr Wildlife Sanctuary in Orang’s Dak Dam commune, according to protester Toeuy Thi, 55.
A letter submitted to the land department by members of effected communities in O’Raing, Pech Chreada, Koh Nhek, and Keo Seima districts was initially rejected, but accepted after protests continued until Friday.
“We protested against the allowance of Mega First to clear the forest land because there are two main water sources there,” Thi said. “It is wildlife sanctuary. If the forest is to be cleared, there will no more forest and water . . . Our ethnic communities depend on the water sources,” he said, adding the company has already cleared some 7 hectares.
Keo Sopheak, provincial environmental department director, said the government granted the land to the company and the study on its effects was already completed. “The villagers should have protested against it at the beginning. It is difficult now,” he said.