A proposed new road and border crossing with Vietnam, which cuts straight through Mondolkiri Protected Forest, will cause irreversible damage to one of the country’s most important conservation areas and could ruin plans to re-establish Cambodia’s tiger population in the forest, environmental group WWF said Thursday.
Deputy provincial governor Svay Sam Eang said the Srea Ampom-Kbal Damrei road and border crossing, which will traverse Mondolkiri province and cross into Vietnam’s Dalat province, will be built at the request of Vietnam.
“The road that will be constructed follows a request from Vietnam. They requested it a long time ago and they requested it because they want a road which makes it easy to cross from Dalat province to Mondolkiri province,” he said, acknowledging that it would have some environmental impact.
“There will have to be a little impact, such as to the forest and other things, as the need for the road is very essential. But we will have to try to avoid causing too much impact,” he added.
But according to the WWF in Cambodia, which has invested $10 million in the Mondolkiri Protected Forest since it was established in 2003, the potential ecological impact of adding to the already existing infrastructure—there are already four checkpoints operating along the Cambodia-Vietnam border in the province—far outweighs the limited economic benefit.
“Mondolkiri Protected Forest is a treasure trove of species and a vital lifeline for communities who rely on its ecosystem,” WWF country director Sam Ath Chith said in a press release. “[The proposed road] will not benefit local villages and is completely without merit.”
Instead, it will bring an increase in the illegal trade of wildlife and timber and scupper the government’s stated goal of reintroducing tigers into the forest, WWF says.
“This proposed road is completely incompatible with tiger restoration and should be canceled immediately,” said Teak Seng, WWF-Greater Mekong Regional Conservation director.