Environmental NGOs, the Ministry of the Environment (MoE), the Cambodian army and
a vegetable grower are involved in an ongoing argument over the fate of part of the
Kirirom National Park.
Several major environmental NGOs - including NGO Forum, Global Witness, WWF, the
Wildlife Conservation Society and Conservation International - wrote a letter October
2 to the European Union ambassador in Bangkok.
In it they outlined their "potential concerns relating to the activities of
Asia Urbs and Mr Michel Marty" over apparently illegal plans to develop a ten
hectare vegetable farm inside the park. The letter cited alleged "backing from
high levels within the military" as pressuring the MoE to agree to the project.
However, Marty told the Post by email that the story was a result of "misinformation"
and added his hope that the NGOs would "find some realistic solutions to the
daily destruction" of the park.
"I never had any plot in the Kirirom park," said Marty, manager of Asia
Urbs, an NGO set up to improve the living standards of impoverished farmers. He also
owns M&M Co., a private firm which supplies organically grown vegetables to plush
hotels and restaurants in Cambodia.
Marty said his interest in the park came about after "a demand" from the
Minister of the Environment, Dr Mok Mareth.
"I did present a small project with some ideas of eco-tourism to bring revenues
to the population living in the park and bring some income to the Ministry of Environment
to be able to protect the environment and control the development," he wrote.
He said the project had the backing of Army HQ to provide work and money for demobilized
Dr Guy Meargai, director of ADG, a Belgian NGO that funds Asia Urbs, said that his
understanding was that one aspect of the proposal did involve Asia Urbs developing
"biological agriculture" within the park's boundaries.
"However, to avoid any further misunderstandings ... I requested during my last
visit to Cambodia [that Marty] inform the MoE of his impossibility to implement the
project proposal regarding Kirirom Park he introduced last March," said Dr Meargai.
He added that the proposed project was "far [from being] a savage land encroachment"
and said the project would now be no closer than 35 kilometers from the park.
Amanda Bradley, coordinator of Mlup Baitong, an environmental NGO and one of the
signatories to the letter sent to the EU ambassador, said local people depended on
water from the park both for drinking and for rice cultivation.
"We are concerned not only with the potential environmental impacts of such
a development on the national park, but also on the surrounding communities,"
said Bradley. "Indeed the community forestry committee in Chambok commune, just
outside the park, has already registered its concern with Mlup Baitong regarding
The letter from the NGOs also emphasised the precedent that turning over a piece
of protected land to agricultural use would set.
An official at the MoE agreed the project was up for discussion but rejected the
NGOs' complaints, saying that the project would benefit the park. Kol Vathana, deputy
director at the Department of Nature Conservation and Protection, accused NGOs of
spreading the news to others before discussing it with the MoE.
"We welcome them helping us, but I think that NGOs should respect the government's
job. If they think there might be a negative impact, they should discuss this with
the government first before sending the news to somebody else," he said.
Vathana said that the enterprise would help protect the park by training rangers
to be eco-tourist guides as well as employing villagers living near the park.
"The company said that they will practice environmentally-friendly management,
so as not to damage the natural resources," he said. "The company also
said they would not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, only compost."
Besides, he added, it was not the job of the MoE to approve the project, merely to
evaluate it. Any approval would have to come from the Ministry of Finance.
Preah Suramarit-Kossamak Kirirom National Park is 117 kilometers south-west of Phnom
Penh. Its 35,000 hectares are home to a wide variety of birds, tropical vegetation
and animals, including tigers, elephants, leopards and bears.