Prime Minister Hun Sen has told the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to prepare a royal decree to "protect forever" the Phnom Tamao mountain area in Takeo province's Bati district, where Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) and an adjacent wildlife sanctuary are located.

In a special audio address to the nation late on August 16, Hun Sen said: “I reaffirm that Phnom Tamao is reserved to be protected area. I instruct the agriculture ministry to prepare a royal decree to designate it a protected area forever.”

Hun Sen said the total size of the area that needs reforestation is 530ha, so he has ordered more than 1,000 members of his bodyguard unit to deploy more than 100 machineries to prepare the land to plant saplings of luxury tree species accordingly. Therefore, he said the public should not be surprised and make uninformed judgement when they see the armed force go down the area.

The premier noted that it will be turned into a park.

Phnom Tamao has until recently become a heated topic after swathes of the forest area were cleared by developers following several land swap deals, which aroused the ire of the public and conservationists.

This prompted Hun Sen to issue an August 7 directive ordering annulment of all deals and reforestation of the area.