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.