Plans to build a resort on 900 hectares within Kompong Speu’s Oral Wildlife sanctuary were tentatively approved by the Council for the Development of Cambodia Thursday, after they were submitted with the recommendation of the Ministry of Environment, said Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh.
Before the deal is given the final go-ahead, however, the CDC has asked New Cosmos Development Company Ltd to submit a master plan, detailing exactly how they will develop the land, Cham Prasidh said Thursday. The Chinese company, registered with the Ministry of Commerce in 2003 as an import/export company, will also have to conduct an environmental impact assessment and agree to respect the rights of minority people living in the area, he said.
Chay Samith, director of the Ministry of Environment’s Department of Conservation and Protection, said the ministry supported the project, though it had not formally approved it. But he said that he did not know any details about what the development would include.
The project is one of several proposed land concessions within protected areas, which critics say violate the law and contradict the purpose of such areas.
Chay Samith said it was legal to develop land within the park. A draft law governing protected areas, yet to be considered by the National Assembly, would allow such a project because it permits eco-tourism, he said.
But Mike Davis of the forestry watchdog group Global Witness expressed doubt over the legality of the resort. Sanctuaries are currently governed by a 1993 Royal Decree that states they are intended to preserve natural conditions in order to protect wildlife, vegetation and the ecology of the land. “And infrastructure development is not eco-tourism,” he said.
The NGO Flora and Fauna International supports a management program within the sanctuary, but suspended operations in March after confrontations between villagers and enforcement officers. FFI is still in discussions with the government about when operations will return.
Mike Appleton, FFI project head, said Thursday he was unable to comment on the proposal.
The site includes natural hot springs where many minority groups live, said Sam Inn, environmental officer with Lutheran World Services, which has worked with FFI and local communities in the area.“We have a plan to support the community to develop eco-tourism in this hot springs area,” he said.
He said the government had not consulted or informed the community about New Cosmos’ proposal.