PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The Cambodian government has formed a body to manage the country's Tonle Sap lake basin, which is thought to contain onshore oil and gas reserves, a report said Friday.
Tonle Sap lake, or "Great Lake," is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It is located about 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh and touches six provinces.
The body - named the Tonle Sap Basin Authority - will be headed by Tao Seng Hour, a minister in Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, The Cambodia Daily newspaper reported.
"The authority will do studies for oil exploration," Tao Seng Hour was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
The new authority's work will also include improving the environment and the livelihoods of the people living in the basin area of about 16,000 sq. kilometers (6,180 sq. miles) around the lake.
Reached by phone Friday, Tao Seng Hour confirmed his new role but declined to comment further on his tasks or on prospective oil and gas reserves in the Tonle Sap basin.
Tonle Sap lake covers about 250,000 hectares (618,000 acres) during the dry season and expands to about 1.25 million hectares (3 million acres) during the rainy season.
It holds a rich biosphere of more than 200 species of fish, 42 types of reptiles, 225 species of birds and 46 kinds of mammals.
In the past, conservationists have expressed concern about the impact any future oil projects may have on the environment in the basin.
But the government "will make sure that there is no pollution" from the exploration, Tao Seng Hour told the newspaper.
The government has promoted oil exploration in the Tonle Sap area as part of its long-term strategy on energy supply. It has also hoped to use prospective oil revenues to develop the country and reduce poverty.
In recent years, numerous geological studies in the basin have been conducted to look for possible oil and gas reserves, Te Duong Tara, director-general of the official National Petroleum Authority, said in a recent report obtained by The Associated Press.
In 2005, U.S. energy giant Chevron Corp. discovered oil off the Cambodian coast and plans to drill 10 more wells by the end of 2007.Critics and observers have expressed concern that increased income from oil could exacerbate Cambodia's already widespread corruption.