The government has agreed in principle to the development of palm oil and cassava plantations and livestock farms to cover more than 2,400 hectares within Bokor National Park, according to a recently obtained letter.
A conservation group expressed concern Friday that if allowed to proceed, the development could destroy valued natural resources and forest.
It would be at least the second commercial development within the 140,000-hectare protected area after the Sokha Hotel company was granted permission for a resort complex on Bokor Mountain earlier this year.
In a March 11 letter to Environment Minister Mok Mareth, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhon said the government had agreed to a proposal by the ministry and a company named Y Seng Co to sign a 99-year lease and draft a “clear plan” for the development of a precise area yet to be demarcated.
“The company must make a formal contract for environmental protection with the Ministry of Environment and apply all procedures,” Prak Sokhon wrote.
Prak Sokhon said Friday he had issued the letter in an administrative role and referred questions to the Environment and Agriculture ministries.
Mok Mareth could not be reached Friday; other Environment Ministry officials said they were unaware of the proposal.
“I’m not aware of this company,” Bokor park Director Chey Uterith said Friday. “But I believe strongly these ministries really study all the environmental impacts and other impacts before authorizing investment.”
Environment Ministry Secretary of State Yin Kimsean said Friday he too was unaware of the plan and that such investments were prohibited in most cases.
“I’ve never heard of this company,” he said. “We have never authorized such investment, but we always support eco-tourism projects in national parks.”
Environment Ministry records indicate that permission for mineral resource exploration has been granted to companies operating in protected areas across Cambodia. A recently enacted law on Cambodia’s protected areas prescribes a zoning plan that allows industry in some park zones while prohibiting it in others. However, the government has yet to draw the boundaries of most such zones.
Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International, said forest clearances for agribusiness and the presence of large numbers of laborers would destroy habitats and disturb animal migrations.
Cassava plants are known to harm soil quality, he added.
“We’re concerned that those workers may clear forest to build housing,” he said. “Those workers may trap wild animals for meat, too.”
Contact information for Y Seng Co was unavailable.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)