A senior Fisheries Administration official in Kompong Thom province has warned of possible legal action against the owners of 16 man-made reservoirs on the Tonle Sap flood plain if they do not comply with a government order to demolish them by the end of the month.
Ky Vannarith, chief of the Kompong Thom Fisheries Administration, said that to date only one of 11 businesspeople who own the 16 artificial reservoirs have signed a contract agreeing to the destruction of the reservoirs.
“If they continue refusing to follow the fisheries law, I will lodge a complaint at the court seeking prosecution,” Mr Vannarith said Tuesday, referring to a November government order issued by the Council of Ministers that the reservoirs be removed.
“We assigned the fisheries officials at district level to work with them, but the result is not so good,” he said of the number of agreements signed so far to voluntarily remove the reservoirs.
“They said they do not have money to demolish [the reservoirs] by themselves,” Mr Vannarith said.
Another 113 reservoirs, used to retain wet-season floodwater for industrial-scale farming in the dry season and spanning about 10,000 hectares of formerly flooded forest and floodplains of the Tonle Sap lake, are due to be destroyed in Kompong Thom alone, according to the November government order. There are reportedly many more such reservoirs in the five provinces surrounding the lake.
Last week Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the governors of the five provinces to demolish all the reservoirs, calling them an “historic” mistake.
Mr Vannarith said his fishery officials in Stong, Baray and Kompong Svay districts and Stung Sen city had been in negotiations with the 11 reservoir owners since early April. But only one of the owners has so far agreed to cooperate with the authorities, he said.
The government has set April 30 as the deadline for the destruction of the 16 reservoirs.
Mr Vannarith said that he aims to again talk to the owners in person in a bid to persuade them to sign the contracts, though he did not say when. If the final attempt to convince the owners fails, he claimed that he would be forced to pursue punishment under article 98 of the fishery law.
The fishery law states that anyone who does damages to national fishing resources, without prior evaluation by the Ministry of Agriculture, shall be punished with a prison sentence of between three and five years.
“If there are no good results again, I will forward the documents to the court without waiting for the [April 30] ultimatum,” he said, adding that while the court is proceeding with legal action, his officials would also seek an order from the government to demolish the reservoirs before the start of the rainy season.
If they “again refuse the demolition we will wait for the order from superior [authorities]… and we will enforce it immediately,” he said.
The only reservoir owner to have signed a contract agreeing to demolition his reservoir is a man named Chim Chorn, Mr Vannarith said.
Mr Chorn could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to Mr Vannarith, Mr Chorn has built a 430-hectare reservoir in Kompong Svay district’s Kompong Kor commune.
Pol Kham Nare, one of the reservoir owners, said yesterday he could not afford to dismantle his 81-hectare reservoir in Stung Sen City that was built in 2002. He added that he had sent his daughter in his place to an April 6 meeting with fishery department officials and that she had not signed the contract because other reservoir owners were absent.
“We cannot oppose the government’s order,” Mr Kham Nare said, but appealed to the government to provide a water source alternative so that industrial-scale farmers could irrigate their dry-season farmland.
Another reservoir owner Keu Banhou also voiced his concerns, saying yesterday that he could not afford to demolish his 46-hectare reservoir in Stung district built in 2008.
“I dare not oppose the government’s order but I could not afford the demolition,” Mr Banhou said. “Now I am in debt.”