Preah Vihear Excluded from Protection Plan

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Environment Minister Say Sam Al speaking at a workshop yesterday. KT/ Mai Vireak

The Ministry of Environment conducted a workshop yesterday to discuss the government’s plan to designate five forest areas, totaling about one million hectares of land, as protected.
During the workshop, a map of the planned protected areas revealed that the area of the Prey Lang forest that falls in Preah Vihear province will not be protected, due to determinations by the government that that area has already been “grabbed” and is “flooded.”
Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said the historical workshop demonstrated his ministry’s commitment to changing the country’s mindset regarding protected forests and the conservation of natural resources. Part of the purpose of the workshop was to gather opinions from various parties involved in the new protection plan for the forests.
“How can we arrive to preserve?” Mr. Sam Al asked. “We want participation from the authorities at all levels. We don’t see only the [money]. Each province must be responsible for its own sake. People of this generation must be responsible for the next generation.”
Prey Lang, the Southern Cardamom Forest, Prey Preah Roka, Western Siem Pang Forest and Veun Say Forest will all be classified as protected.
“The plan to classify the five exploitable forests as natural protected zones will contribute to the protection of the environment and the conservation of bio-diversity, as well as to improve the livelihoods of people living in the communities near those areas,” the minister added.
According to a presentation concerning the management of the natural protected zones presented by Chay Samith, a delegate of the government in charge of the General Administration for the Protection and Preservation of Nature, the Prey Lang forest will only be protected in three provinces – Kratie, Steung Treng and Kampong Thom – despite the forest also stretching into Preah Vihear.
In response Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said the area of Prey Lang in Preah Vihear excluded from protected status is due to past forestry administration studies.
“By following the government’s directive 01 of the ‘new policy on the old issues of land’, we have to exclude Preah Vihear from the zone of protected forests, because there are already many households in those areas,” said Mr. Sopheap.
He added that there was a community forest already designated in Preah Vihear, which is unable to be further classified as protected. He also said the matter would be reported to higher administrations for further investigation.
“It doesn’t mean all forests in the province, it is only the community forest,” said Mr. Sopheap.
Phok Hong, a representative of the Koury ethnic minority in Preah Vihear, took issue with the decision to exclude Preah Vihear from the rest of the protected Prey Lang.
“The area in Prey Lang that is a preserved zone is being minimized. If Preah Vihear is not a protected zone, all the trees will be cut and the forest will become an empty field. It means that they break our rice pot. I absolutely request that our forest be a protected area. I will give up my life for that,” said Ms. Hong.

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