To Locals’ Ire, Clearances Begin in Bokor Park

Land clearing has begun for a 2,400-hectare agribusiness concession within Bokor National Park, drawing sustained protest from villagers in Sihanoukville, local residents and officials said Tuesday.

Since early this month, a 15-km strip of land along part of the concession boundary has so far been cleared in Prey Nop district’s Toek Thla, Toek La’ak and Samaki communes, cutting off farmland and rice paddy belonging to as many as 1,000 families, said Rem Mosoeur, the leader of the local fisheries community in the three communes.

The Environment Ministry and Sihanoukville municipality last year gave permission to a company called Y Seng Co Ltd to begin the clearances of the land.

Y Seng Co executives are not named in official correspondence and could not be reached Tuesday.

Despite conservationists’ concerns, under a 99-year lease the company may establish cassava and palm oil plantations and livestock farms on 2,432 hectares of land at an undisclosed location within the 140,000-hectare park, which spans Sihanoukville, Kam­pot and Koh Kong provinces.

This month’s clearances have come within 2 km of the Sihanouk­ville coast, creating a danger that run­off and eroding soils may pollute canals and fisheries, Rem Mosoeur said.

“Villagers have gone to the fields and interrupted the clearing of the land for demarcation, as we can see that our farmlands are located in­side the economic concession,” he added.

In a Dec 25 letter obtained Tues­day, Sihanoukville Governor Spo­ang Sarath granted permission for the boundary line to be cleared.

“The company must carry this out correctly, based on technical stan­dards, must directly communicate with local and relevant authorities to avoid the locations of bounda­ry points beyond their precise boun­daries or otherwise affecting vil­l­agers’ and others’ lands,” he wrote.

Neither Spoang Sarath nor En­vi­ron­ment Minister Mok Ma­reth could be reached Tuesday. How­ev­er, Toek Thla commune chief Ph­oeun Nam said he believed that on­ly a few hectares of villagers’ farm­land were within the concession.

“I can clarify that the company has avoided clearing the affected rice paddy and farmland…but I acknowledge several plots of farmland are located within the concession,” he said.


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