The excavation of a sand mine roughly twice the size of urban Phnom Penh could follow a planned eucalyptus plantation as the second operational land concession in a southeastern national park, prompting one NGO to threaten to suspend relations with the Ministry of Environment.
The proposed mine, in an 8,000-hectare land concession inside Koh Kong province’s Botum Sakor National Park, has the apparent backing of Environment Minister Mok Mareth, who wrote in official correspondence last month that he and the Royal Government “had decided to grant a license to TKS International Co Ltd for a study on a possible exploitation of natural mines (sand) to export to Thailand.”
The TKS concession lies in the southeast of the 183,000-hectare park, which the ministry oversees with funding and assistance from the NGO WildAid.
TKS is seeking to renew a two-year license granted in 2002 to research a sand mine in the park, and it remains unclear if it has succeeded.
A separate 18,000-hectare concession is already beginning operations inside the park. That concession has the backing of Mok Mareth, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Council of Ministers.
WildAid said this week that both projects are illegal because they are inside a protected area, and that the NGO may withdraw funding for the park if the plans proceed.
The two parties will meet about the concessions this week, WildAid’s deputy director said Wednesday.
“From a national point of view, the government has to define its position on allowing developments in protected areas,” Delphine Vann Roe said.
“This questions the whole protected area system,” she said.
Officials at the Environment Ministry declined comment on TKS’ plans and referred questions to Mok Mareth. The minister is in the US leading a delegation to a UN-sponsored conference on sustainable development and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Council of Ministers spokesman Khieu Thavika this week also declined to speak on developments in Botum Sakor.
An address listed on a 2002 license as TKS’ office is apparently vacated.
Green Rich Group Co Ltd began operations in the park last month. Workers for the Taiwanese company were seen at the site this month felling swaths of weeping paperbark trees, also known as rear mangrove trees, to pave way for planting and cultivating eucalyptus to be exported and used in paper production.