Families Protected by Tonle Sap Lake Rezoning

This aerial photo taken on October 16, 2020 shows rice fields next to the Tonle Sap river in Siem Reap province. Photo by AFP / TANG CHHIN Sothy / To go with 'CAMBODIA-ENVIRONMENT-CLIMATE-FISHING,FEATURE' by Suy SE

Long-term settlers excused from crackdown

PHNOM PENH – The Prime Minister has called for zoning changes on land around the Tonle Sap Lake to protect people who have been growing crops there for a long time.

Areas around the lake are divided into three zones. Zone 1 is the residential area, Zone 2 is for enjoyment, and Zone 3 is protected.

Hun Sen ordered Chea Sophara, Minister of Land Management, to cooperate with provincial authorities bordering the lake to modify the boundaries of zones 2 and 3 for the benefit of people who have settled in the area for many years.

The government moved ​​10,014 hectares from Zone 2 to Zone 1 for 9,144 families and ​​6,365 hectares from Zone 3 to Zone 2 for 1,749 families in Kampong Thom province.

In Banteay Meanchey province, the government changed the zoning from 3 to 2 of two areas totaling 65 hectares for 22 families. In Pursat province, 3448 hectares in Zone 3 were assigned to Zone 2 for 1,658 families.

Hun Sen said the government must examine and consider the division of the areas based on the geographical situation in each zone.

Some populated areas in zones 2 and have been established as villages, communes, districts and pagodas. Therefore, the areas must be kept for the people to live permanently, he said.

“We must acknowledge that the areas have been there long before we set out the zoning,” Hun Sen said on May 27.

However, areas must be taken back for reforestation if people have only settled for three or four years, he said, urging people who receive land not to encroach on nearby areas.

“We strongly oppose people with money and power taking refuge under the banner of the people and seizing land and flooded forest for their own benefit,” said Hun Sen. “But we support people who are honest and have been cultivating this land for a long time.”

He said the work must be unambiguous to avoid confusion about the zone borders and ordered the relocation of border posts.

The prime minister ordered the crackdown on the encroachment on the areas and flooded forests around the lake in November last year.

Restoration of Lake for Fish Habitats

He asked the Tonle Sap Lake Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Water Resources to jointly restore the lake for the sake of fish species conservation.

From year to year, the lake becomes shallower due to the influx of sediment and leaves.

“Fish conservation is a difficult issue for us. Thus, to ensure the conservation of fish species in the Tonle Sap Lake, we must determine the locations affected so that we can find money help restore that area,” he said.

However, the work had to be done step by step as a huge amount of the national budget would be required. Hun Sen also told relevant ministries and institutions to study the possibility of processing the sediment in the lake into agricultural fertilizer to help farmers' crops.

Previously, Hun Sen ordered officials to crack down on major fisheries crimes after receiving a report from Royal Academy president Sok Touch on illegal fishing.

Fishery exports have fallen by almost half compared with last year due to lower water levels and the destruction of spawning grounds.

In the first five months of 2022, Cambodia exported 1,125 tonnes of fishery products to the region. Agriculture Ministry data shows that fresh fish exports amounted to 2,916 tonnes in the same period in 2021.


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