About 600 fishermen from Sihanoukville and the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampot held a march Wednesday through Kampot town to demand continued access to mangrove forests along the coastline.
Carrying placards and loudspeakers, the marchers walked about 4 km, said Try Chhoun, a coordinator with local rights group Adhoc.
The aim of the march was to voice public displeasure over recent government decisions to give private individuals 72 hectares of mangrove forest in Kampot district’s Konsat commune and 21 hectares in Kompong Trach district’s Russei Srok Khang Lech commune, said Try Chhoun on Thursday.
The fishermen fear the mangroves—which are crucial fish-spawning habitats used by locals to raise fish, shrimp and oysters—will be cleared and filled in, Sok Kao, a representative of the protesting Kampot villagers, said Thursday.
“We need the mangroves to support our lives,” said Rim Musoeu, a representative of the Sihanoukville marchers,
More than 75 percent of Sihanoukville villagers fish for a living, he said.
Khem Bunheng, director of the Kampot province environmental department, said his office supports the fishermen and shares their concerns for the mangroves.
“We support the protection of mangrove land,” he said Wednesday. “We are worried that the concession land will harm and deplete natural resources.”
Try Chhoun said the march almost didn’t happen. Following a request to hold the march, Kampot Governor Thach Khorn wrote in a May 30 response that “if people are stubborn to march, they will face legal action.”
Interior Minister Sar Kheng intervened June 3, with a letter asking “provincial authorities to cooperate with the marchers,” the Interior Ministry’s spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said.
The villagers ultimately obtained the permission to march when they promised not to call on authorities to stop giving away state land to private parties or give concessions on coastal land, Try Chhoun added.