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Gov’t Asked to Protect Nearly 1 Million Hectares of Forest

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
Members of the Prey Lang community look at trees that had been cut down near their conservation area in Stung Treng province. KT/ Vireak Mai

The Ministry of Environment has proposed the government establish nearly one million hectares of newly protected forest, an area that will include the Prey Lang forest, according to ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap.
The proposed conservation zones will be in five areas – Prey Lang, Prey Chrok Robeang Kravanh Khang Tbong, Prey Preah Roka, Prey Seam Pang Lech and Prey Veunsai.
The plan to establish the 900,000 hectares was outlined in Royal Sub-Decree 34 and was related to the reshuffled roles and responsibilities of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.
The sub-decree refers to ministerial competence, regional development, the investment management of economic land concessions, the management of protected areas and forest and fishery conservation, all of which are issues Prime Minister Hun Sen raised during the inauguration of the new Environment Ministry headquarters earlier this month.
The issue was addressed by Mr. Hun Sen during the inauguration and also transfers the management of forestry and fishery conservation from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to the Ministry of Environment.
Mr. Sopheap said the proposal for the new areas of protected forest had been sent to the government for approval this month after Sub-Decree 34 had been issued. Once the areas are set up as conservation zones, investment and development within their boundaries will be forbidden.
The ministry will set up forest officers in all land areas to protect, manage, care for and conserve the environment, he added.
“We are waiting for the government’s decision on the matter,” Mr. Sopheap said.
According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, the government has managed to protect 1.6 million hectares of forest since 1993. There are a total of 23 protected forest areas and conservation sites within the Kingdom.
A representative of the Kampong Thom provincial Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN), which has been asking the government for years to designate the Prey Lang forest as a protected area, said the move to create nearly 1 million new hectares of protected land was a positive development, since conservation areas in the past have been under the control of an ineffective Ministry of Agriculture.
He said he hoped the Ministry of Environment would conduct itself differently.
“If the ministry has proposed the government make Prey Lang a conservation area, the ministry should collaborate with the PLCN in order to ensure its success, because we are working to prevent forestry crimes. If the ministry goes it alone, it will fail like the Ministry of Agriculture,” the representative said.
In response, Mr. Sopheap said that when the government officially approves the five protected areas, the ministry will work with relevant communities to manage conservation work.
“We will organize a consultation and we will invite representatives of the communities to participate,” he said.
Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said the government already has sufficient laws to protect the Kingdom’s forests and the new designations are not necessary.
He said the new designations on their own will not ensure the health of the country’s natural resources, citing the Snoul Beoung Pae conservation area, which has become nothing more than cassava plants and rubber trees.
“The important thing is, is the government willing to protect the remaining forest or not?”
According to a July 2015 report from international NGO Forest Trends, most deforestation in Cambodia is due to private companies abusing economic land concessions.

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