Mondulkiri Requests 3,000 Hectares of Wildlife Sanctuary Be Made an SEZ

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Fence posts inscribed with phone numbers partition land in Mondulkiri’s O’Reang district on February 12, 2021. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

A shopping mall, hotel, casino, warehouses and mixed-use areas are proposed to be built on a wildlife sanctuary near the Vietnamese border under a request made by the Mondulkiri provincial administration to the Interior Ministry.

A letter dated February 5 and signed by provincial governor Svay Sam Eang, seen by VOD, asks the Interior Ministry to redesignate 3,261 hectares of the Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary to turn into a special economic zone along the border.

The land in Pech Chreada district would be used for the construction of markets, administrative buildings, border checkpoint offices, warehouses, industrial areas, residential, business center, shopping mall, hotel casino, water treatment station and farms for reforestation, the letter says.

It says the request will help the province manage the wildlife sanctuary and prevent deforestation.

Deputy provincial governor Chhim Kan declined to comment, referring questions to the provincial administration spokesperson, Sorn Sarun, who could not be reached.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak, however, said the ministry didn’t have the authority to redesignate the land.

Only Prime Minister Hun Sen could authorize the change, Sopheak said.

“The provincial council, the provincial governor also has no rights. The interior minister also has no right to cut land. The one who has the right is the head of government,” Sopheak said.

Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra declined to comment, saying he had not seen the request.

Kreung Tola, a coordinator at the Mondulkiri Indigenous People Network, said he opposed the proposed development.

“First, it will fall in the hands of a powerful person” and then be sold onto others, Tola said. “In all special development areas, in fact, when they’ve gotten it, they’ve sold it to traders. They sold it to companies. … So, my experience and the people are fed up with these means.”

The Phnom Nam Lear Wildlife Sanctuary spans more than 50,000 hectares in the province, according to the Council for the Development of Cambodia.

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