Kompong Thom Provincial Court yesterday charged five men with constructing unlicensed reservoirs on protected land around Tonle Sap lake after a pair of arrests over the weekend, a local fisheries official said.
Ky Sovannarith, head of the province’s fisheries cantonment, said fisheries officials arrested two men they caught Sunday constructing an irrigation canal in Stong district’s Samprorch commune. On Saturday, fisheries officials arrested three men for allegedly clearing flooded forest in Msar Krang commune, also for an unauthorized reservoir.
“They are charged with building illegal reservoirs,” Mr Sovannarith said.
Provincial prosecutor Pen Sarath said he was too busy to speak with a reporter yesterday. The court director and deputy director both said they were unaware of the case.
Mr Sovannarith explained that all five men were building in zone two of a recently designated 640,000-hectare conservation area around the lake.
Lim Sithat, deputy chief of the district’s fisheries division, added that authorities had also seized a pair of bulldozers during Sunday’s arrest. He said the men had used the equipment to dig a 200-meter-long canal that was to be part of the 20-hectare reservoir they were planning.
Provincial governor Chhim Chhorn said he believed the men knew they were breaking the law, which requires the province to review plans for any reservoirs in the area.
“They know that they cannot construct reservoirs [in protected floodplains] but they still keep doing it,” he said.
The weekend arrests are part of ongoing government measures to protect the Tonle Sap’s floodplains and flooded forests, considered important fish habitats.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Aug 12 warned provincial officials around the lake to implement the government’s protection policies strictly or face dismissal.
In recent months, the Tonle Sap Authority demolished 35 reservoirs and downsized 10 others used to irrigate tens of thousands of hectares of rice farms built on the floodplains illegally.