Siem Reap stops clearing of protected wetlands

An aerial photo shows burned areas around the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap province in 2016.
An aerial photo shows burned areas around the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap province in 2016. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Authorities in Siem Reap province on Monday stopped the clearing of protected wetlands within the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, halting the work of a team that had already cleared one hectare of flooded forest.

The authorities found nine vehicles, including bulldozers, excavators and trucks, and seven people clearing the area in Chreav commune in Siem Reap district. Just a few kilometres from the Boeung Peariang bird sanctuary, an important habitat for endangered species, the area falls within the “buffer zone” of the Unesco-designated biosphere reserve, which by law should receive conservation protection from a patchwork of ministries.

As of Tuesday, officials from the Environment Ministry, Fisheries Administration, Water Resources Ministry, district police and anti-economic crimes police had inspected the site.

Provincial Anti-Economic Crime Police Chief Soeung Sen identified the owner of the vehicles only as “Hak Seng”, who has yet to respond to a summons. Multiple officials declined to comment on whether charges would be brought, and the seven people clearing the land were questioned and released.

Kong Mongkol, director of the Boeung Peariang eco-tourism site, said the clearing had begun on March 11, and that workers had built a road to transport soil out of the area.

Environment Minister Say Samal has previously said illegal land clearing of the wetlands is his “biggest headache”, and past attempts to stop the practice have had little effect.