Civil society groups in Cambodia have called for an environmental impact assessment to be carried out before a highway is built leading into the at-risk Areng Valley.
Prime Minister Hun Sen personally approved the project in August, telling Uk Rabun, the minister of rural development, that construction should begin after the annual monsoon season and would promote tourism in the area.
“If there are more tourists visiting there, the loggers would be a bit scared as well. This road is not for you cutting the trees, meaning it’s for carrying tourists and facilitating the people for medical treatment,” he said.
Chhit Sam Ath, country director of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, said that the road could further endanger at-risk species in the valley.
“I think that we should conduct a study on the environmental impact before we begin construction, because we ... don’t want that road to have an impact on the environment and forest or wildlife,” he said.
The valley is rich in flora and fauna, including numerous rare and endangered species.
Local people, however, welcomed the announcement that the road would be built, because it would help them transport agricultural produce to market.
But Ven Vorn, a Chong ethnic minority representative and activist, cautioned that it could also lead to increased illegal logging and other destructive practices.
“For our community, we welcome to have a road built and we are happy with the government that provides this road for us. But our concern is that we worry strongly that there will be people seizing this opportunity to cut and transport wood when there is a road,” he said.
Sao Sopheap, an environment ministry spokesman, could not be reached.
Bun Leut, the provincial governor of Koh Kong, where the valley is located, said the authorities had received positive feedback from locals when the project was discussed, adding that the local government would work with the Areng communities to ensure environmentally destructive practices were kept to a minimum.
A large hydropower dam project planned for the Areng was shelved by Hun Sen after a prolonged campaign by locals and activist groups.