A local environmental conservation group has alleged that a Singaporean company is cutting down trees in a wildlife sanctuary in Kompong Speu province that is protected by royal decree, though government officials said the business was given the green light to proceed.
Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource Observation and Protection Organization of Cambodia, said HLH Agriculture is removing trees from the nature preserve, which is protected by a 1993 royal decree from retired King Norodom Sihanouk in Oral district.
Government officials, however, said a recent sub-decree gave the business permission to plant crops on the land. According to the sub-decree, dated March 30, 2009, and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the company received a 70-year lease for 9,985 hectares to grow crops such as corn or cassava.
Mr Hean, however, claimed the company began work within the 30,000-hectare preserve well before gaining the sub-decree’s approval and that clearing of trees started in July 2008 and has since continued sporadically.
HLH officials in Phnom Penh who were contacted by telephone did not respond Monday to an e-mail request seeking comment.
Kompong Speu Provincial Governor Kang Hean said the government agreed to provide the thousands of hectares of land to the private company for an agricultural concession, and that the sub-decree allows the company to cut down trees in the area in order to farm.
He declined to comment on whether or not the 1993 royal decree would affect the company’s activities. “They have the right to log and they have to keep the trees that the law did not allow them to log,” the governor said in an interview last week.
Ouk Khimsan of the provincial forestry administration office said he was unaware of the dispute and declined to comment.
Oral District Governor Chem Sarin said he is still learning how large the project will be and what its impact on the land and residents will be. He also confirmed the company’s activities were sanctioned by the government, but added that no crops have yet been planted on the cleared land.
(Additional reporting by Frank Radosevich)