At Least 10 Years to Repair One Week of Phnom Tamao Damage

Workers plant saplings at Phnom Tamao forest on August 8, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)
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Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent replanting the Phnom Tamao forest that was destroyed over the past week.

Much of the replanting will be led by tycoon Mong Reththy, who says he was uninvolved in the clearing but has been permitted by Prime Minister Hun Sen to undertake the restoration. Environmentalists also turned up at Phnom Tamao on Monday to do their own replanting, as the province said it did not know what was going on.

Mong Reththy, an agricultural tycoon, told VOD it would cost about $6 per tree to be replanted in Phnom Tamao.

About 500 hectares were destroyed since last weekend, after the protected forest was privatized for tycoons including Leng Navatra and Khun Sea to build a satellite city. But amid a public uproar, Hun Sen announced on Sunday that the development would be halted and the forest regrown.

According to Reththy, about 200 trees would need to be planted per hectare, bringing the estimated cost for the replanting above $600,000.

“The reason is I love planting trees, so I will plant it. I don’t care about who cut them,” he said, adding that he used to live near Phnom Tamao in Takeo province and cared about the forest.

“In my experience from planting trees, it will take around 10 years to see an average forest. This is not a big forest, but for an average one,” he said.

On Monday, around 100 workers began replanting at the northeast corner of Phnom Tamao, where the clearing began last weekend.

Prak Vorn, 57, said he was getting paid 500 riel per plant, and was happy to join other villagers in the work.

“When I came and saw them clearing [the forest], I was not proud of that. But I am happy with the replanting,” Vorn said. “I worry about the animals if there are no [trees] in the forest. The animals will have a hard time.”

He was not clear on who was paying him, but believed it was the administration for Phnom Tamao. The forest was overseen by the country’s Forestry Administration before its privatization, and includes a wildlife rescue center co-operated by NGO Wildlife Alliance.

Forestry Administration director Keo Omaliss and the administration’s Phnom Tamao director Nhek Ratanapich could not be reached.

Alongside the people replanting the trees on Monday were around 100 other local residents collecting felled wood. A 38-year-old man, who declined to give his name as he worked for the state, said he was taking the wood since no one was stopping him.

“But I also feel upset about this. For this kind of tree, it will take around 40 years to grow,” the man said.

To the south, near a pagoda in the center of the forest, Khmer Thavrak activist Chhoeun Daravy was part of a replanting campaign by environmentalists. Daravy said the activists were undertaking the work voluntarily.

“We didn’t ask for any permission,” she said, adding that around 100 trees would be planted there. She said the environmentalists would only be doing the replanting for one day, as the restoration should ultimately be the responsibility of the company that destroyed the forest.

Takeo provincial spokesman Meas Uy told VOD that the provincial governor would join the replanting on Wednesday, but only knew it was “related to Mong Reththy’s preparations.”

Cheam Sokhom, a drinks vendor spoke to VOD on August 8, 2022, at Phnom Tamao forest.
Cheam Sokhom, a drinks vendor spoke to VOD on August 8, 2022, at Phnom Tamao forest. (Kay Nara/VOD)

He did not know how much forest had been cleared or which authority was responsible for the restoration, Uy said.

Near the pagoda, beverage seller Cheam Sokhom said she was filled with mixed feelings.

“I am both happy and sad. The replanting will take years to grow. I don’t think I will live to see those trees grow large. But at least they keep part of the forest. It’s like a miracle.”

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