Ex-KR Troops To Remain on Protected Land

Former Khmer Rouge soldiers living on a protected wildlife sanctuary in Banteay Meanchey and Battambang provinces will be permitted to stay and develop the land, thanks to King Norodom Sihanouk, government officials said Monday.

The King last month signed an amendment to a 1993 Royal De­cree that named the Roniem Daum Sam Wildlife Sanctuary a pro­tected area, said Uk Seyha, Ministry of Environment undersecretary of state. The motion legitimizes the presence of people currently settled on the site.

With the 1996 integration of local Khmer Rouge forces into the government, former soldiers moved their families to the sanctuary. Trees were cut, roads were paved and lives began anew. But the fresh start for the former Khmer Rouge meant the end of forestry conservation.

The King’s amendment and a project to demarcate new lines be­tween farming zones and protected forest zones are striking a balance between living and conserving. “If we do not reform the de­cree, where will the people go to live?” Uk Seyha said. “The people already deforested for their farms and their villages, so we have to oblige the people so they can live.”

Provincial authorities studying the land are drawing new boundaries for the sanctuary plan to be approved by the Interior Minis­try. The sanctuary sweeps through Battambang province’s Phnom Proek and Kamrieng districts, and Malai district in Banteay Meanchey province.

More than 70 cement poles were posted to delineate boundaries in Malai district over the past year, said Thach Khorn, Banteay Meanchey provincial governor. One hundred more will be erected. The sanctuary’s new dimensions will be recorded on a map for use in future land conflicts, he said.

“If we again do not make a map, it will be very complicated because people already are cutting trees to clear for their farm, and there is new settlement on banned areas,” he said.

Residents also are being taught the basics of forest management to promote community-based con­servation.

“We let people help conserve the forest, as a good way to protect forestry in the future,” a Ministry of Environment official said on condition of anonymity. “People know well the kind of trees they should and should not cut. When we hand over power, they can do their job well.”

Prak Doeun, Battambang pro­vincial deputy governor, said a meeting will be held to discuss the changing landscape.

 

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