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Fisheries officials in Kompong Thom province on Thursday arrested a tractor driver for allegedly clearing protected flooded forests of the Tonle Sap lake to build a large-scale irrigation reservoir, officials said yesterday.

Thang Chea, 22, was arrested as he drove a tractor to plow wetlands in Kompong Sralao commune in Baray district, said Net Chhun Ean, deputy chief of the fisheries administration cantonment.

“We arrested him while he was plowing to claim state owned land,” Mr Chhun Ean said. “It is public land in the fishing area which is protected.”

He said the provincial court on Friday charged Mr Chea with destruction of a fishing area under the 2006 Fisheries Law.

The case marked the second time that officials have apprehended workers in the area as part of new efforts to stop the construction of reservoirs around the lake and to require local agribusinesses and farmers to remove 16 man-made reservoirs covering around 3,600 hectares by the end of this month.

Last Tuesday, officials arrested two workers who were operating a tractor for businessman Ly Chamroeun in order to create a 500-hectare reservoir in Baray district’s Chong Doung commune.

The men were released without charge but two tractors were impounded by the provincial court.

Nao Thuok, chief of the fisheries administration, said that despite the government’s recent initiative to protect the floodplains, businessmen and rich farmers continued to enter protected areas to create large-scale rice farms.

“It is not quiet. Now we still continue our measures to arrest and detain. Whoever plows the land there, we must arrest them,” Mr Thuok said.

Chhun Chhorn, governor of Kompong Thom province, said provincial authorities had met with the owners of 16 reservoirs on Sunday and persuaded them to sign a contract to execute the demolition of their reservoirs, as otherwise they would face legal action after the April 30 deadline.

Mr Chhorn then went on to deny claims by some reservoir owners that provincial authorities had previously encouraged them to convert the floodplains into farms.

“The province has never pushed them to do that. We always asked them to stop,” he said.


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