Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC), announced on May 8 that hundreds of seedlings that were planted at RAC’s Techo Sen Russey Trip Park, in Chheb district, Preah Vihear province, have been destroyed by local residents.

Touch said that he had intended to plant one million trees in the park, but that the saplings that were planted about three years ago had all been destroyed. Some were killed when land was cleared for agriculture, some were eaten by grazing animals and others were burnt.

The park covers an area of 114.35sq km, and is located in Chhep Muoy and Chhep Pir communes.

“Many people have contributed to planting trees in the park, including the Preah Vihear and Kampong Speu provincial boards of governors, RAC leaders, professors and students and many local officials. It appears that someone has undone their good work. People are even planting cashews or cassavas where the trees once stood,” he added.

“We will not let them plant any more crops – we will protect the trees that remain,” he continued.

Touch explained that when the trees were planted three years ago, many of them were paid for with state funding. Bu in barely two months, the trees have been completely devastated.

“The RAC and the government arranged for alternative farming and housing for the local people so they would not need to exploit the forest or destroy the trees in the park, but they don’t seem to have taken notice of what we have done for them. When I raised the issue with them, some of them said they had no other option as they owed money to microfinance agencies or were experiencing other issues,” he added.

Hour Mabuny, a right group Adhoc representative in Preah Vihear, said she had not yet received detailed precise information regarding Touch’s concerns, as she had yet to meet with members of the local communities.