Immediately following the National Assembly’s approval of the protected areas draft law on Thursday, Minister of Environment Mok Mareth announced that the government has granted several private companies the right to explore many of those areas.
Mok Mareth said that among the areas now open to exploration are previously protected regions in the Cardamom Mountains, Phnom Aural and Virachey National Park.
“This law is a tool that I hope we can effectively implement in the 23 protected areas to make sure that Cambodia can conserve [those] areas for the current and future generations,” he said. “The Cardamom Mountains have more than 1 million hectares of land…. According to the new draft that was approved, we will establish sustainable areas inside these protected areas,” he added. The law, which was approved by 78 out of 84 lawmakers present, calls for three types of zones: core zones, conservation zones and community zones.
Core zones are untouchable, while access to conservation zones is granted by government permission only. Community zones are reserved for use by local and indigenous groups.
While further study is needed to assess the full exploitable potential of the Cardamoms, Mok Mareth said there is reason to believe there are minerals of high value—possibly aluminum and gold.
“We are analyzing the minerals…. If we can see large potential, we must extract it,” he said.
Mok Mareth also said that while the government is encouraging exploration companies to dig shallow holes, he is not overly concerned that such activity will damage the environment. “We have no concerns because they are experienced. After exploration, there will be no effect to the environment,” he said.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann objected to the government granting concessions in protected areas.
“The concessions given to the private companies are not transparent,” he said, adding that the profit from mineral exploration will not be enough to balance out the damage done to the environment.