Prime Minister Hun Sen has authorised the felling of about 9,000 hectares of protected forestland in Ratanakkiri's Vereak Chey National Park by a private company for a new rubber plantation.
A sub-decree signed by Hun Sen stated that rights to clear-cut part of the protected forest area would be granted to the Srun Sovannaphoum Investment Co Ltd to plant rubber as part of a new special economic zone in Ratanakkiri province.
Ratanakkiri provincial governor Pav Hamphan said 1 Mar 2011 that he was not aware of the sub-decree granting development of a portion of the national park, which consists of about 332,500 total hectares of forest land.
He stressed, however, that the park is a private area and no villagers would be affected by the concession.
"If the government grants an economic land concession to this private company, it is good because that area is uninhabited, so when the company comes to invest they will also construct a road, he said.
The concession was signed only days after an address by Prime Minister Hum Sen in which he told a group of graduating students that the government would strive to protect its natural forest land against overdevelopment of rubber plantations.
"Rubber is at a good price, but it is wrong for us to cut down the high trees to plant rubber, Hun Sen said.
"We can protect the forest to help reduce climate change. Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc, said that the government has denounced the felling of protected forestland for rubber plantations in the past, which is contradictory to what they are doing now.
"Cutting some part of Vereak Chey National Park may not affect villagers, but it seriously affects the forest and this province will lose even more forest land, he said.
Chou Sopheak, director of Vereak Chey National Park, could not be reached for comment.(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)