O Meanchey Villagers Wary of Settlement in Protected Forest

Landless families have continued moving into an ever-growing squatter camp inside a protected forest in Oddar Meanchey province, a community forest chief said yesterday, clearing hundreds of hectares in the process.

Forest monitors worry the new arrivals may jeopardize a carbon trading project that could bring their communities millions of dollars.

“About two families are moving into the protected forest almost ev­ery day, and it seems that no au­thorities have taken action to prevent the squatters,” Sa Thlai, chief monitor of the province’s 13 community forests, said yesterday.

According to Mr Thlai, more than 300 civilian families and 35 RCAF families have moved in since March, clearing an estimated 500 hectares inside Samraong City’s Rom­duol Veasna community forest.

Mr Thlai said forest monitors have stopped approaching the squatters, as some RCAF soldiers allegedly attacked a group of them in March.

City governor Phon Nol said yesterday that authorities had found a suitable site for relocating the families, but would need a few more months to measure the spot and apply for a social land concession.

RCAF Second Lieutenant Nuth Sarith, a company commander in the province, insisted his soldiers had not cleared any of the protected forest and said they were willing to move as soon as the site was ready.

Mr Thlai, however, said the area’s established residents were growing anxious that the squatters could risk the success of their carbon-trading plans.

Backed by the UN as a cost-effective way of curbing the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the scheme lets rich countries pay poorer countries for the carbon their forests lock up as a way to offset their own emissions.

In Oddar Meanchey, project planners say the trade could earn local communities millions of dollars over the next three decades. Getting the project off the ground, however, will depend heavily on convincing investors that the trees remain standing.

Keo Omaliss, who oversees Cambodia’s carbon-trading projects at the Forestry Administration, said he was too busy to speak with a re­porter yesterday and referred questions to PACT, the NGO aiding the government with its plans. PACT officials could not be reached.



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