Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court has sentenced two people to 18 months in prison after they were found guilty of violating the land law in the Kbal Chhay protected area.
They were identified as Chhay Rath, a resident, and Cambodian Labour Confederation’s Tep Sopha. The two were arrested on January 21 during a protest in Sihanoukville’s Lek Muoy commune, a part of the protected area.
Mr Sopha, who claimed he did not attend the protest, said he was only there to observe the situation on the ground, while Mr Rath was arrested and accused of being one of the people behind the protest.
Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Environment Ministry, yesterday said the two were charged with illegal land occupation and incitement to obstruct forces, and were sentenced to more than a year in prison.
“We welcome the decision of the provincial court. This demonstrate that the ringleaders […] occupied protected state land,” Mr Pheaktra said.
“The encroachment of any state land, as well as the selling and buying of land in protected areas, is completely illegal,” he added. “The Environment Ministry has been reviewing legal procedures to take against ringleaders who incite people to encroach on state land, and return the said land back to the state.”
CLC president Ath Thorn in a Friday statement expressed regret over the decision, adding that Mr Sopha did not commit a crime.
“He only went there to investigate a land dispute, and ask the authorities for the facts on what actually happened at the scene,” he said.
Mr Thorn said the CLC has requested Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Supreme Council of the Magistracy to review Mr Sopha’s case.
Lim Bun Heng, spokesman for the provincial court, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Provincial authorities in the past warned people not to encroach on the Kbal Chhay protected area.
It said that the area is the only source of freshwater for the entire province.
The authorities noted that they will take legal action against anyone, including ringleaders, suspected of encroaching or settling in prohibited areas.