About 200 villagers in Battambang province held a protest to demand that they be allowed to farm inside a protected wildlife sanctuary, officials said Monday.
Chhay Yuob, director of the provincial Environment Department, said the villagers continue to clear land for farming, despite the fact that the sanctuary is protected by royal decree.
The 200 villagers from Phnom Proek district protested in front of the sanctuary’s headquarters on Saturday, angered by environmental officials’ insistence that the area be preserved for the endangered species and forest it houses.
“We can’t allow them to expand their farms because more trees in the sanctuary will be destroyed,” Chhay Yuob said.
The protest came after environmental officials erected two concrete posts demarcating the edge of the protected forest. Villagers continue to trickle into the sanctuary to cultivate farms, making conservation a constant battle, Chhay Yuob said. Some encroachers have claimed as much as 20 hectares of land, he said.
The Roniem Daun Sam sanctuary lies two-thirds in Battambang and one-third in Banteay Meanchey province. The 178,750-hectare area has been protected by royal decree since 1993, but it was under Khmer Rouge control until 1996.
Earlier this year, environmental officials in Banteay Meanchey sued three suspected illegal loggers in Malai district, saying they were felling trees in the sanctuary. Provincial Judge Kep Soeun said on Tuesday that a trial date had not yet been fixed.
Thanks to warfare, illegal logging and land encroachment, there may not be much left to save in Roniem Daun Sam, officials claim. In June 2001, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, inaugurating the sanctuary’s headquarters building, said that at least 50 percent of the wildlife habitat there had already disappeared.