A community in the Areng Valley that last year successfully disrupted a planned hydropower dam has launched a fresh campaign against the construction of a road that locals fear will accelerate illegal logging.
Members of the ethnic minority Chong community and representatives of the environmental group Mother Nature held a news conference in Phnom Penh on Monday to express concern over a planned road that would run through rural Koh Kong province.
“There are bad people in the Areng area who illegally log the forest,” said San Mala, Mother Nature’s co-founder. “When they have a good road, I think it will make their illegal logging easier.”
“What mechanisms does the Environment Ministry have to prevent and crack down on illegal logging?” he added.
Environment Minister Say Sam Al could not be reached. Rural Development Minister Ouk Rabun said only that plans to build the 18-km red dirt road connecting the Areng Valley with Thma Baing district were already in place.
Has Ley, a member of the valley’s Chong minority, said villagers were fine without the road. While she could see the potential benefits, she was wary of how it could disrupt their lives.
“When we get sick we can quickly get to the hospital,” Ms. Ley said. “But good roads usually bring drugs, thieves and people who destroy the forest.”
Ven Vorn, another member of the community, said residents were concerned about security as they did not have the ability to prevent illegal logging themselves.
Provincial governor Bun Leut swept aside the concerns, saying a good road would make the area easier to police.
“Our authorities have clear mechanisms for preventing and cracking down on offenses,” Mr. Leut said.
Areng Valley and Mother Nature made headlines during a long campaign against a government-proposed hydropower dam that would have flooded the valley and forced out 1,300 Chong villagers.
Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen indicated in a letter that the government might turn the area into an ecotourism site, and promised that construction would be delayed at least until after the 2018 national election.