MINISTER of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor on Monday reiterated the government’s intention to remove all reservoirs surrounding the Tonle Sap lake, and said that six of them had recently been demolished in Kampong Thom province.
Prime Minister Hun Sen in April ordered the destruction of all reservoirs near the lake, saying they caused environmental damage, especially to the surrounding forest and fish stocks. Farmers have argued, however, that they need the reservoirs to boost crop yields.
In a meeting with a handful of reporters in Phnom Penh, Lim Kean Hor said officials had destroyed a total of six reservoirs in Kampong Thom since Friday, the date by which their owners had been told to have them removed.
A total of 30 reservoir owners were facing the Friday deadline, and the minister said Monday that the demolitions would continue.
“Most of the illegal reservoirs in Kampong Thom, Siem Reap and Battambang are at least 1.5 square kilometres in size,” he said.
“The owners paid between $80,000 and $100,000 to construct the reservoirs, which local farmers could not possibly afford to do.”
Um Meng, a representative of a fishing community in Kampong Thom, said he supported the government’s decision to remove the reservoirs around the lake, but added that he was concerned that the owners of the reservoirs would simply rebuild once the crackdown is complete.
“They built the reservoirs to cultivate rice during the dry season, but they devastated the forest, which is home to fish and prawns,” he said.
“We welcome and encourage the government to remove them and continue to crack down forever. If not, the reservoirs will be rebuilt.”
He also said that local officials had arrested only farmers who had been making use of the reservoirs, and that the reservoir owners had gone unpunished.
Lim Kean Hor said the ministry was preparing recommendations for local officials to begin carrying out the arrests of noncompliant owners under Article 98 of the Fisheries Law.
“They can face three to five years in prison,” the minister said.