Golf Course Part of Biotourism Plan for Park

A 900 hectare resort preliminarily approved for construction within the Oral Wildlife Sanctuary will include a golf course, a company official said Thursday, fueling criticism from environmentalist groups over the legality of the project.

Fu Xian Ting, chairman of Unite International Foreign Investment, said the proposal prepared by his company and its partner, New Cosmos Development Company Ltd, includes plans for a golf course in the protected area, but declined to elaborate.

“Because it has just been approved by the government and we are working on the details, I do not want to comment,” he said.

Described by Environment Ministry officials as an ecotourism project, the proposed development—the third within a protected area to come to light in recent months—has worried critics, who allege that the planned resort is illegal and violates a 1993 Royal Decree that governs protected areas.

The proposal was approved May 6 by the Council for the Development of Cambodia, after it was recommended for consideration by the Environment Ministry, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said. The companies, however, must provide a master plan and an environmental assessment before construction can begin.

Chay Samith, director of the Environment Ministry’s Depart­ment of Conservation and Protect­ion, which manages the parks, said May 6 the development was legal because the proposed site is in a zone that permits development for ecotourism. The zoning is part of a World Bank-supported protected areas law that has yet to be considered by the National Assembly. He also said that the ministry supported the project.

On Thursday, Chay Samith said he knew little about the project, saying he had never seen the plans and did not know any details about it or whether the ministry had formally approved it. He declined to explain how the ministry had recommended the proposed development within a park under his jurisdiction without consulting him.

“I am not the minister,” Chay Samith said several times.

When asked to define ecotourism, Chay Samith said he could not. Nor could he explain how such a designation would apply to a 900 hectare golf course and resort.

Minister Mok Mareth refused last week to comment on the resort or on an equally controversial but already approved plantation and a proposed sandmine within Botum Sakor National Park.

Mike Davis of forestry watchdog Global Witness said Sunday it was unclear how the company could obtain enough water to maintain a golf course and resort without drastically altering the sanctuary’s natural waterways.

The government still has not notified communities living near or within the proposed development area about the proposal, Sam Inn, environmental officer with Lutheran World Services, said Sunday. He is working on a project to help locals develop hot springs within the proposed resort boundaries as an ecotourist destination. The hot springs are sacred to indigenous Suy minorities who live in the area.

“I am just very concerned about the people’s culture and livelihood,” he said.

Glenn Morgan, the task manager of the World Bank’s $4.91 million Biodiversity and Protected Management project, said he had not been consulted about the proposal, though his project is working with the government to develop a strategy to manage Cambo­dia’s national parks.

Morgan said development in parks outside of Virachey National Park in Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri provinces, where his project is based, were outside the project’s authority.

“We don’t have any capacity through our activity to monitor what’s going on,” Morgan said Saturday, at the tail end of a visit to Cambodia.

(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)

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