January 8th, 2007 06:05 EST
Park Signs Agreement With Samlaut Protected Area
On December 19th, saffron-colored banners swirled over the open field at the Samlaut Protected Area in Cambodia and young children, orphans from a nearby city, dressed in traditional purple and yellow silk, danced before several hundred people gathered for the signing of a sister park accord between this park and Sequoia-Kings Canyon.
Regional Director Jonathan Jarvis signed the five-year accord between the two sites, which will bring the two park organizations together to learn from each other and address common issues such as illegal uses within park boundaries.
Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister, Sar Kheng, and two other cabinet ministers, including the Minister of Environment Mok Mareth and Minister of Tourism Lay Prohan, participated in the morning ceremony, which was hosted by Stephen Bognar, the executive director for the Maddox Jolie-Pitt project. The MJP project is spearheading the integration of this park within the UN Millenium Village of Samlaut.
The following article from the Cambodia Daily, entitled “Samlot Forest Conservation Effort Eyes Tourists,” provides additional details on the event. For more on the MJP project, click on “More Information” below.
Samlot Village, Samlot district, Battambang province – This remote outpost has not attracted many visitors, and when it has, they have tended to be unwelcome.
The forest, which continues along the Cardamom mountain range through Pailin municipality to the Thai border, was a final refuge for Khmer Rouge soldiers in the 1990s. and is still strewn with landmines.
Rampant illegal gem mining inside the forest during the same decade turned the Sangke River red with dust and pollution.
The river has been rehabilitated in recent years, but park rangers who patrol the 60,000 hectares of forest in the Samlot protected area, which spans Battambang and Pailin, say they still contend with poachers, loggers and landgrabbers.
Poverty among villagers in the area complicates the picture, said Fred Beattie, senior conservation adviser for Hollywood stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's Maddox Jolie Pitt project, which employs 46 park rangers and 30 community development workers in the area.
Most small-scale poaching and logging, Beattie said, is carried out by poor villagers who have no other means to support themselves.
On Tuesday, Cambodia officials, US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli and US park officials signed an agreement in Samlot to protect the 60,000 hectare forest that they hope will bring a new breed of visitor to the district - tourists.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Minister of Environment Mok Mareth, Tourism Minister Lay Prohas and Jonathan Jarvis, regional director of the US National Park Service, also named Samlot and Sequoia Kings Canyon parks in California as "sister parks."
Rangers and officials in Samlot, Sequoia and Kings Canyon will share management, conservation, educational and eco-tourism strategies for the next five years, officials said.
The MJP's celebrity benefactors were not present at the ceremony, but Stephan Bognar, executive director of the MJP, said that Cambodian officials have warmed to the project's conservation priorities over the past year since the MJP has expanded its community development projects.
School renovations, agricultural training, and the construction of health posts and a soy milk factory to supplement school lunches are all current MJP projects underway in six villages in Samlot district.
As part of the sister relationship, in March and April, three Cambodian park rangers will have a chance to shadow US rangers at parks in the US, Bognar added.
Holly Bundock, assistant regional director for the National Park Service based in California, said US park officials are hopeful that their Cambodian counterparts will be able to draw on their experiences with illegal loggers and poachers in Samlot to help US officials combat marijuana cartels.
Name: Holly Bundock, Public Affairs Officer, Pacific West Region