A forest on the largest island in the Con Dao archipelago off Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in southern Vietnam is on the verge of being cut down to make way for a resettlement project, stirring up strong opposition from locals.
The forest is located on a 16,500 square meter sand dune in a residential neighborhood on the island’s Nguyen Van Linh Street, near the Quang Trung Reservoir and Hang Duong Cemetery – a memorial cemetery for Vietnamese soldiers and prisoners who died in Con Dao Prison in the war.
Data from authorities reveals that the forest is home to more than a thousand resin trees, ranging from eight to 30 centimeters in diameter.
Early this month, the dune’s surroundings were leveled as trees were chopped down to make room for a ring road, and metal frames were put up to build pre-engineered houses for construction workers.
Discovering an area of the forest was cleared, officials from the Forest Protection Unit of Con Dao National Park ordered the immediate suspension of logging operations.
“The sand dune is right at the center of the town. It’s such a beautiful forest!” said a resident of Con Dao District. “It should remain intact.”
Felling the forest is meant to make way for a project which would provide the technical infrastructure for a resettlement neighborhood.
The People’s Committee of Con Dao District, which administers the group of islands, is the project’s primary developer.
|Metal frames are put up to build pre-engineered houses in a resin forest in Con Dao Islands off Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in southern Vietnam. Photo: Dong Ha / Tuoi Tre|
Late last year, the Con Dao authority announced its intention to acquire more than 16,500 square meters of public forest in order to make way for the resettlement project but it was not until this past March that the local government proposed the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development designated this forest area as the land for the project.
The resin forest functions as a natural protection forest, according to the proposal.
No official decision has been made about the conversion of the forest to a residential area, according to Do Thanh Phuong, deputy director of the Construction and Investment Project Management Board in Con Dao District, who represents the People’s Committee.
“But the district is in desperate need of land for resettlement purposes,” Phuong added.
Phuong also explained that the decision to develop a resettlement project was made before land had been chosen to carry out the project, causing workers to begin clearing the site despite there not having been a land conversion decision.
In 2011, then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung excluded forests in Con Dao from a master plan for forest protection. Those forests can instead be used for the district’s economic development, according to Con Dao District chairman Le Van Phong.
Meanwhile, local residents want to keep the resin forest so that the nearby Quang Trung reservoir can be protected.
The Vietnamese government later adopted a resolution which disallows the conversion of existing natural forests to other uses throughout the Southeast Asian nation.
Exceptions are made for those projects whose aims are to safeguard national defense and security, or boost the country’s socio-economic development. However, such projects must get the nod from the prime minister.
After a Tuoi Tre reporter mentioned the resolution, Phong said the regulation is only applicable to special-use forests.
He noted that forests on the island are left out of the master plan for protection forests, so the resettlement project does not require approval from the government leader.
|The resin trees in a forest in Con Dao Islands off Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province in southern Vietnam are eight to 30 centimeters in diameter. Photo: Dong Ha / Tuoi Tre|