Environment Minister Mok Mareth has accused a businessman of destroying thousands of hectares of sunken forest in an important flood plain in Kandal province, but added on Tuesday that he is powerless to act as the area is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Mok Mareth blamed Okhna Dy Po for the destruction of the flooded forest in Ponhea Leu district, which is a vitally important annual fishing spawning ground where a ministry taskforce in 2005 investigated the clearing of some 1,690 hectares on the pretext of community development.
“Developing community land must be done according to government principles. [Dy Po] is wrong in the face of the law,” Mok Mareth said.
However, as the forest is officially recognized as a fishing lot, it falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, said Mok Mareth, adding that he would support the Agriculture Ministry if it chose to taken action.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has also endorsed a call for the Agriculture Ministry to properly investigate the disappearing flooded forest, according to a Dec 26 letter to Mok Mareth, signed by the premier.
Dy Po strongly denied on Wednesday that his development plans for the community in Ponhea Leu had led to the destruction of the flooded forest and fish spawning grounds. He added that he was developing the area at the behest of local villagers.
“I did not receive approval from the government yet,” he added. “I never asked to develop on prohibited land and I never destroyed flooded forest,” he said, adding that his critics were merely other businessmen who wanted to get their hands on the land.
A provincial Ministry of Agriculture report from June 2005 stated that the deforestation had seriously damaged spawning grounds and that Dy Po was responsible under the banner of his development project, which it said was also an attempt to claim ownership of the land.
Author of the report and department director Chim Sokhon added: “Without any measures to crack down against the deforestation of the flooded forest, it will become a tragedy.”
Even the governor of Ponhea Leu district, Tep Sothy, has accused Dy Po of having designs on owning the forest land and accused him of instigating local villagers to clear the trees with promises of money for the cleared land, new roads and cement to construct a local pagoda.
“Dy Po has persuaded people to sign a petition in support of his project in order to receive permission from the authorities to clear the land,” Tep Sothy said.
“Particularly he has persuaded village chiefs to stand behind him,” he added.
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