Youth Environmentalists Campaign to Protect Koh Kong Krao

3 min read
Mother Nature activists campaign in Phnom Penh to turn Koh Kong Krao island into a national park. (Mother Nature)
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A group of young environmentalists passed out pamphlets and posted banners this week in Phnom Penh to promote the protection of Koh Kong Krao island, urging people to support preservation of the largest island in Cambodia after the government gave development rights to a private company owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat.

About a dozen activists distributed leaflets and postcards and placed banners in public Monday near the Institute of Foreign Languages at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Activist youth also wore life jackets and used car tires bearing messages demanding that the  Environment Ministry list Koh Kong Krao as a “Marine National Park” for the public, rather than handing it over to private ownership.

Mother Nature activist Phuon Keoreaksmey told VOD on Monday that the intention in distributing leaflets and banners along the public roads is to raise awareness about Koh Kong Krao and encourage young people to visit the island, calling for support like that which arose for Phnom Tamao protected forest when the government parceled off 500 hectares starting in May.

The government gave development rights of Koh Kong Krao to oknha Ly Yong Phat — a notorious sugar company tycoon — in June 2019 through his company Koh Kong SEZ.

The island covers about 100 square kilometers and is located in Chroy Bros commune in Koh Kong district, about 30 km from Khemara Phoumin City.

Even if Koh Kong Krao “was destroyed and became privately owned, people at least know that this island belongs to the people and has potential; a beautiful island and the biggest island in Cambodia,” Keoreaksmey said.

“It will be destroyed and no one cares for it … no one advocates to protect that place. It seems it does not belong to the Cambodian people,” she said.

The government formed a committee in June 2020, led by Environment Minister Say Sam Al, to monitor the company’s development plans in the area.

Another Mother Nature activist, Thy Thorn, said he was disseminating information about Koh Kong Krao to spread the word of its beautiful ocean and beaches, waterfall and trails for mountain hiking and camping. If people visit more, he said, it will help its preservation.

“We are really worried that our Koh Kong Krao will lose biodiversity and go from having a beautiful landscape to a bad one,” he said. “We ask people to visit as part of helping Koh Kong Krao to get out of private hands.”

A man picking up the phone at Koh Kong SEZ refused to share his position and said he only started working for the company recently.

Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra could not be reached for comment.

Heng Kimhong, head of the research and advocacy program for the Cambodian Youth Network, praised the environmental group’s work and said Cambodians were the true owners of national property.

Kimhong asked the government to listen to the activists’ concerns and guarantee the preservation of natural resources, as well as help the existing Koh Kong Krao community to earn income for the benefit of common villagers, rather than just rich and powerful people.

“We as Cambodians are the owners of the country and have to be aware of our own resources — especially the potential resources — and can’t lose them or let any [single] group be the owners,” he said.

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