Protect Tonle Sap Or Get Sacked, PM Tells Officials

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday warned provincial officials in the five provinces around the Tonle Sap lake to carry out the government’s policy of protecting the lake’s floodplains or face dismissal, adding that the ruling CPP carried full responsibility for the lake’s future.

Mr Hun Sen addressed officials assembled at a government meeting in Phnom Penh and urged them to conserve the lake’s floodplains and flooded forests, which are considered important fish habitats.

“If any provincial governor does not take serious care, if I remove you, all of you should not be disappointed,” he said.

The prime minister warned officials to prevent any commercial farming in the lake’s floodplains, saying, “Don’t let encroachment on the flooded forest happen…. This activity could lead us to disaster.”

On Wednesday, the first day of the two-day meeting, Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hour and Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly said that high-ranking provincial CPP officials, including governors, had been known to collude with businessmen to allow for large-scale commercial farming in the lake’s plains and flooded forests.

Mr Hun Sen said yesterday it was the CPP’s task to preserve the lake’s environment for the future. “The loss of any part [of the floodplains] is the responsibility of the ruling party,” he said, while adding that around 48,000 hectares of flooded forest had been destroyed since 2005.

In June, fisheries officials said research showed 160,000 hectares of flooded forest had been lost over the past five years.

Kompong Thom governor Chhuon Chhorn said he would follow the prime minister’s order, but he denied that officials in his province had allowed rice farming in the floodplains there.

“In my province there is no official who is involved in land issues related to the Tonle Sap,” Mr Chhorn said, adding, “I will undertake many actions against those who encroach onto the flooded forests.”

Minh Bunly, Tonle Sap coordinator for fisheries NGO FACT, welcomed Mr Hun Sen’s remarks and agreed that provincial officials had given cover to businessmen’s farming operations.

“It’s true, because the simple people cannot build any big reservoirs and only businessmen…can do that,” he said, adding, “Officials conspiring to support encroachment into the flooded forest must be stopped.”

In recent months, officials have demolished dozens of man-made reservoirs around the lake that were used to irrigate tens of thousands of hectares of rice farms, and also demarcated a 640,000-hectare conservation zone around the lake.

The Tonle Sap Authority has so far demolished 35 reservoirs and downsized 10, according to Mr Kean Hour.

Meanwhile, record-low water levels in the Mekong River so far this year have left important fish feeding and spawning grounds along the river and around the Tonle Sap dry, causing concern that this year’s fish production might be significantly reduced.

Mr Kean Hour, however, warned Wednesday that water levels in the Mekong could soon jump to flood levels, as his ministry expects heavy rainfall in the region.


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