Kompong Thom Provincial Court was expected today to charge three men with clearing flooded forest after they were arrested Saturday while allegedly tried to build an irrigation reservoir within a protected zone of the Tonle Sap lake in Stong district, court and fisheries officials said yesterday.
Provincial prosecutor Pen Sarath said he had not yet spoken to the men but that they were to be charged today with clearing flooded forest and to face between three and five years in prison.
“When the three are charged, the court can look into the case to find out who is behind” the reservoir construction, Mr Sarath added.
Ky Sovannarith, chief of the Kompong Thom fisheries cantonment, said fisheries officials and police had detained the three as they were allegedly building a reservoir around a one-hectare dry-season lake in Msar Krang commune.
“I think that this is an aggressive defiance of the government’s order” to protect the Tonle Sap floodplains, Mr Sovannarith said. “We have to crack down on” reservoir building.
He said authorities would seek charges for constructing an unlicensed reservoir in zone two of the 640,000-hectare conservation area around the lake, which officials have demarcated in recent months. He added that a bulldozer and two power tillers used by the men had been impounded by police in Msa Krang commune.
Mr Sovannarith said fisheries officials were also investigating a case in Samprorch commune where they believed another irrigation reservoir was being constructed.
The 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 in provinces around the lake to implement the government’s policy of protecting the lake’s floodplains strictly or face dismissal.
In recent months the Tonle Sap Authority alone has demolished 35 reservoirs and downsized 10 other reservoirs that were used to irrigate tens of thousands of hectares of rice farms that had been built illegally in the floodplains.