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High Hopes for Cambodia’s Natural Sites: Official

The government hopes to restore up to 60 percent of Cambodia’s forest cover by converting concession areas into conservation sites and wildlife sanctuaries, a forestry official said.

The conservation of forests in one of the main priorities of Prime Minister Hun Sen, said Sir Ra Dep, an official at the forestry administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

Cambodia’s natural resources can improve the standards of living for villagers, reduce poverty, reduce greenhouse emissions and the impact of climate change, as well as protect wildlife and draw tourism, he said.

Government policies have come under fire for the creation of rubber plantations and unlawful, unregulated deforestation, especially in areas inhabited by Cambodia’s minority groups.

But Sir Ra Dep said rubber plantations were not part of protected forests, claiming the government conducts research and solicits public opinion before granting concessions.

Residents near hydroelectric developments complain that water has become unusable downstream.

Sir Ra Dep said the government conducted careful studies ahead of such projects, adding: “what the government has decided is that development is a bigger goal.”

Another guest, Suon Sovann, from the office of legislation and litigation at the forestry administration, said the government was now planning to develop 150,00 hectares in Stung Treng to preserve biodiversity.

“We have a nationwide plan for reforestation,” he said, “and we have creacked own on illegal deforestation, no only with people but with any high-ranking official.”

The government recently cancelled 12 concessions to companies and seized more than 400,000 hectares as state property, some of it given to people without land, he said.

Any land with natural forest, waterfall, hills, mountains or valleys, where water is fresh and the sites are attractive should be recognized as land to be conserved for nature tourism, the officials said.