Preah Sihanouk provincial officials on Friday planted 5,500 trees in the Kbal Chhay protected area in order to compensate for a decline due to forestry crimes.
The officials planted a mixture of common and Rosewood trees, which could fetch up to $2,500 on the market for one cubic metre.
Provincial Governor Yun Min said on Friday that the move was made in order to replenish the tree population in the area.
“We have to protect the forests together regardless of how much it costs,” Mr Min said.
After the planting, Mr Min warned that those involved in the destruction of the Kbal Chhay protected area will face legal action.
“There are still those who intend to grab wood in Kbal Chhay,” he said. “Get out of the area immediately.”
On Wednesday, the Environment Ministry issued a warning against the clearing and grabbing of protected forests.
The ministry said that the practice of buying and selling plots of land within protected forests such as Kbal Chhay is still rampant.
“Cease all illegal activities in protected areas. Erecting buildings, planting crops and the repurposing of protected areas is illegal,” the ministry said.
Cheap Sotheary, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that witnesses have reported forestry cases involving officials. Ms Sotheary alleged that the officials conspired to grab land and sell plots for up to $1,000.
“Some people clear forests and take land in order to profit from those who don’t know about prohibited areas,” she said. “Those who bought these plots of land were usually poor.”
Ms Sotheary added that authorities should place large billboards in protected areas in order to display warnings regarding legal action that could be taken against offenders.
Kbal Chhay was designated as a protected area in 2016 by the government. The decision was made to protect ecosystems and maintain natural resources.
At the time, the government promoted the move to local communities in order to garner support.
However, upon seeing the negative impact on people living in Kbal Chhay, the government decided to carve a small portion of the area to serve as a residential zone.
The government tasked the provincial administration to distribute plots of land to those affected.