By May Titthara
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 19, 2016
The Environment Minister said he would draw up a proposal to protect the remainder of Prey Lang’s roughly 300,000 hectares after flying over the area with the US Ambassador, NGOs and development partners yesterday.
Minister Say Sam Al said the announcement was a turning point for the government, calling on all development partners to cooperate with each other in order to reach an agreement.
“The size of the last forest was more than 300,000 hectares. Now it’s a good sign for us to make an agreement to make Prey Lang a protected area at once. It’s not an easy issue, it’s a difficult issue,” he said.
The minister added that he has been studying Prey Lang with local authorities and will organize a workshop in the next few days to discuss the proposal before sending a sub-decree to the Council of Ministers for approval. “What we did with the ambassador was preparing Prey Lang as a protected area.
After that, in the workshop, we will openly discuss about how to protect the forest and what kind of role the Ministry of Environment will play in this issue, what kind of jobs there are for local authorities in the protection of the forest such as village chief, commune chief, district governor and provincial governor, and the role of civil society,” he said.
“Notably, the civil society is not out of the scope of the constitution of Cambodia, so they have to follow the constitution, which is the law in effect.”
He said the area was not classified as protected land yet, and as a result local residents were attempting to land grab, saying that community groups have to work together with sub-national administrations in villages, communes and districts to solve problems.
“In Prey Lang, there is the affected area and the non-affected area. I hope that the international community will provide us with financial aid to protect the forest,” the minister said.
US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt said his embassy has been attempting to reach an agreement on Prey Lang for several years.
“We have been cooperating with civil society and people in the communities, and now we will continue to do this work,” he said.
The US government is providing $20 million through USAID’s Supporting Forests and Biodiversity Project to conserve Cambodia’s natural resources.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said during an annual meeting at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia in March that he had approved a proposal to mark almost one million hectares of forest, including Prey Lang’s, as protected.
“Such as Prey Lang, we keep it for what? We have to put it as a protected area. Whoever can call on civil society to participate in the protection of Prey Lang,” the prime minister said.
Hoeun Sopheap, a Prey Lang Community Network representative in Kampong Thom province, said he welcomed the move to designate the last stretch of Prey Lang as a protected area.
“I give equal rights to each of us in the protection of Prey Lang to avoid the accusation that we cut the trees when we patrol the forest,” Mr. Sopheap said.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there were 23 protected areas across Cambodia as of September 2014.
An image taken from a helicopter illustrating continued, widespread deforestation in northern Cambodia
Image: US Embassy via Khmer Times