ALMOST 10,000 hectares of a wildlife sanctuary in Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom provinces have been reclassified as state private land, paving the way for private development in the area that could affect local residents.
According to a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on August 19, some 9,993 hectares of land in Preah Vihear’s Rovieng district and Kompong Thom’s Sandan district have been earmarked for possible cultivation of rubber and other permanent crops.
Sandan district governor Sim Vanna said villagers had settled throughout the area, but did not have legal rights to their properties.
“People live on the land illegally – they just live there temporarily for farming, and they leave when they finish,” Sim Vanna said. He said that he was unsure how many people might be affected by the repurposing of the land, but that the transition would likely take place without incident.
“It will affect people if the land is given as a land concession, but I think the government will evaluate and study the consequences clearly before granting the land to a company,” Sim Vanna said.
Nhem Sarat, Kampong Thom provincial monitor for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that he planned to consult the affected villagers to see if they wanted to file a complaint.
No private companies are currently operating in the area, Sim Vanna said.
Forestry Administration director Chheng Kim Son said the area was not his responsibility. Chay Samith, the acting conservation director at the Ministry of Environment, said he was in a meeting and could not comment.
Prak Saran, the Adhoc coordinator in Preah Vihear, said he too was unsure of how many people would be affected by the repurposing or whether it would disturb the wildlife sanctuary. He urged the government to investigate these issues as development moves forward.
“If the development affects people’s livelihoods, the government should have a solution for that,” Prak Saran said.