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Cambodia Defends Environmental Protection as U.S Redirects Aid

Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment has denied that any large-scale natural resource crimes in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary are happening and says the fact that the U.S is ending its deforestation aid program was proof that Cambodia was now capable of protecting the environment itself.

The Ministry’s Secretary of State and spokesperson, Mr. Neth Pheaktra, was speaking to the Reuters news agency on Friday, responding to a statement released by the U.S Embassy in Phnom Penh.

In Friday’s statement, the Embassy says, “The United States has invested more than $100-million in programs that combat these problems in Cambodia through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Although Cambodia has made some important strides in environmental protection, the United States has repeatedly expressed concerns about persistent high deforestation rates in protected areas, particularly in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary where USAID has invested significant resources. We have urged increased cooperation between the Cambodian government and local communities and civil society to find solutions to protect Prey Lang and the natural heritage of the Kingdom for the benefit of all Cambodians and the world.”

In announcing its decision to end the “USAID Greening Prey Lang” project, the U.S. Embassy says, “Unfortunately, the situation is worsening. Since 2016, despite USAID’s support for increased ranger patrols, training of law enforcement and development of a national protected area management system, the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary has lost approximately 38,000 hectares of forest, nearly nine percent of its forest cover. Well-documented illegal logging continues in and around the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary and Cambodian authorities have not adequately prosecuted wildlife crimes or put a stop to these illicit activities. In addition, the government continues to silence and target local communities and their civil society partners who are justifiably concerned about the loss of their natural resources.”

In response, Mr. Neth Pheaktra said the Ministry of Environment will continue its mission with responsibility and professionalism in the management and conservation of the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, as well as other protected areas in Cambodia for generations to come. He says, “The completion of the Prey Lang Baitong” in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, does not affect the relationship between the Ministry of Environment and USAID. During talks on 15 June, both sides met as equal partners and agreed to divert this assistance to other cooperation that continues to serve the best interests of the Cambodian people”.

The Embassy’s statement confirmed that the assistance will be diverted to the private sector, civil society, and local community work to improve livelihoods and expand environmentally-friendly agriculture" and that the U.S will continue to work with the Royal Government of Cambodia on environmental and climate change issues of common concern through the United States-Mekong Partnership."

Cambodia’s Secretary of State in the Ministry of Environment also emphasized that cooperation between national and international associations and non-governmental organizations is always welcome. Mr. Neth Pheaktra says, “through better protection and conservation, Cambodia has been successful in selling carbon credits on the international voluntary market and the living conditions of people in protected areas are beginning to improve, thanks to eco-tourism and new career opportunities”.

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