HANOI, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday requested closure of natural forests in Central Highlands and shutdown of facilities processing natural wood in the country.

Speaking at a conference held in the Central Highlands Dak Lak province, Phuc announced the measures to protect natural forests, according to the E-Portal of Vietnamese government.

Up to 2.25 million hectares of natural forests in the Central Highlands are not allowed to be open to commercial projects, except those for defense and security purposes, Phuc said.

The premier also ordered suspension of granting licenses to hydropower projects that are subject to forest encroachment, and stop operation of hydropower projects that violate regulations on reforestation.

Deforestation has occurred in 41 percent of the total forest coverage in the Central Highlands over the past three decades, Phuc said, describing the situation an alarming problem.

The PM called on localities to take more feasible and sustainable solutions in a bid to fulfill the target of raising forest coverage in the Central Highlands to 59 percent in 2020.

The Central Highlands in Vietnam spans the southern part of Truong Son mountain range. Therefore, forest protection and development in the region is significant to water resources, ecological environment and socio-economic development of south central and southeastern costal provinces, reported Vietnam's state-run news agency.

Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said the total area of forest and land zoned for forestry in the region stood at nearly 3.4 million hectares. The area of forest land decreased 180,000 hectares compared with 2010.

Regional forest reserves dropped from 327.5 million cubic meters in 2010 to 270.5 million cubic meters in 2015, a decrease of 17.4 percent.