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Ministry refutes NGO’s claim about cleared protected forest

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times Share:
An aerial view of the cleared area. Wildlife Alliance

The Environment Ministry yesterday refuted a claim by Wildlife Alliance that more than 200 hectares of mangrove forest had been cleared inside protected areas in Koh Kong province’s Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary.

Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said yesterday park rangers inspected the area which the NGO said had been cleared.

“Our rangers inspected the clearing which the Wildlife Alliance discovered and found it is not located in the conservation area,” he said. “It is a former shrimp farm that was authorised for cultivation and private ownership.”

On Wednesday, Wildlife Alliance said it discovered 227 hectares of mangroves forest inside Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary during checks for forestry crimes.

Wildlife Alliance founder and CEO Suwanna Gautlett declined to comment yesterday. But she told Khmer Times on Wednesday that 227 hectares were cleared in the sanctuary in the province’s Khemara Phoumint city.

“Seeing the large scale, systematic clearing, it is obvious expensive heavy machinery was used, thus indicating that the land clearing was not done by poor farmers,” she said that time. “It is heartbreaking to see this devastation. The livelihoods of fishermen are at stake, given the vital role of mangroves as nurseries for coastal fish, shrimp and crab. Urgent action is needed to stop this,” Ms Gautlett added.

Mr Pheaktra said that eight families in the area have been living there since the 1990s and they used to run shrimp farms.

He said the families asked the ministry to grow mango trees instead.

“The ministry allowed them to cultivate in 2018 because they had enough documents to prove they owned the land,” he said.

Mr Pheaktra warned the public from occupying any land within the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary as it had already been registered as state land.

He also called on the Wildlife Alliance to cooperate with the provincial environment department in stemming any forestry crime, such as forest encroachment or deforestation, within the protected area.

Last month, the Environment Ministry registered more than 50,000 hectares of protected area in Koh Kong and Mondulkiri provinces as state land in a bid to eliminate land disputes in these areas.

In a statement, the ministry said the Ministry of Land Management issued 18 land titles in two wildlife sanctuaries, with 10 titles covering around 4,000 hectares of Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary and the other eight covering more than 45,000 hectares of Phnom Prich.

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