Amid mounting uproar over the privatization and destruction of the Phnom Tamao forest, Prime Minister Hun Sen has stepped in to call off the development and replant trees starting Monday.
Hundreds of hectares were razed in just a week since land clearing began last weekend. The area, about an hour’s drive from Phnom Penh, spans more than 2,000 hectares and contains a wildlife rescue center on about 400 hectares. The surrounding forest was privatized to developers including Leng Navatra and Khun Sea this year in order to build a satellite city.
On Sunday, however, Hun Sen, who earlier signed the documents privatizing the forest, ordered an end to the land clearing.
All land transfers would be canceled, the Phnom Tamao forest would be put under Agriculture Ministry protection, and the clearing must stop immediately and replanting begin, Hun Sen said.
“The government asks to save the forest near Tamao zoo despite the explanation from the Agriculture Ministry that the zoo will not be affected,” he said.
The ministry’s Forestry Administration has repeatedly argued that the zoo would remain, despite the public concerns about the surrounding forest. The administration also said the land was not good for forest and that wild pigs were bothering local residents.
Navatra, the developer behind the recent destruction, posted online on Sunday that he supported Hun Sen’s call and wanted people to help in replanting the forest.
Wildlife Alliance director Nick Marx said on Monday that he was thankful for the decision. Marx and the conservation group help operate the wildlife rescue center.
“We are so grateful to this decision from samdech and the people who support Phnom Tamao’s conservation. Thank you is all I can think of,” he said. “Phnom Tamao is an example of conservation for the Cambodian people.”
Activist Chhoeun Daravy posted online on Sunday that she would join the replanting starting on Monday, and encouraged members of the public to participate.