In efforts to stop tree-cutting in the historic Angkor Wat area, government officials said they will fine 33 villagers and investigate provincial authorities.
Seng Oeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said Monday the plan has the support of First Prime Minister Ung Huot, who wants heavy fines imposed on the violators.
“The people who are behind cutting the trees will be investigated,” Seng Oeurn added.
Prach Chan, deputy director-general of administration of the Ministry of Interior, also said action would be taken to stop the deforestation. The amount of the fines hasn’t yet been specified.
About 10 percent of 10,800 hectares of trees and vegetation in a zone protected from development have been cleared gradually since July, Environment officials say. Officials have charged that villagers have cleared the land to sell to investors.
Siem Reap Governor Toan Chay has steadfastly denied that charge, insisting that homeless disabled people who have been relocated to the area have been responsible for clearing and that the problem is exaggerated.
Previously, Toan Chay said only two hectares of trees had been cleared, but on Tuesday he acknowledged that more than 30 hectares have been cut. He said the cutting occurred because the people were ignorant of the significance of the protected zone.
“Why are the cutters for farms being fined?” Toan Chay asked on Tuesday. “And if they are fined or arrested, why haven’t the [illegal] loggers throughout Cambodia been apprehended?”
Government officials have done little to crack down on massive illegal logging in Cambodia.
Toan Chay also denied any culpability for deforestation in the Angkor Wat area. “How could the governor be entangled in the cutting?” he asked. He added that all the villagers and disabled people involved in the cutting were moved from the area last week, and that 10 hectares of trees would be replanted later this year.