Kampong Thom Provincial Court on Friday charged three men for allegedly encroaching on community forest land in Prasat Balaing district’s Sala Visay commune between 2016 and 2019.
According to court documents obtained yesterday, the accused were identified as Som Chankompheak, 42, community chief of the Choam Mrech Nature Protected Area; Heng Saroeun, 67, Talek village chief; and Sith Han, 33, a villager.
They were charged with cutting down trees, land encroachment, clearing forest land, setting fires in a forest, and bulldozing forestlands for ownership. They were arrested on Wednesday.
The document further noted the men’s activities took place between 2016 and 2019 in Choam Mrech Nature Protected Area in Talek village, which is located in Prasat Balaing district’s Sala Visay commune.
Vann Seng, provincial court spokesman, yesterday said the men are currently in pre-trial detention.
“The provincial court has decided to detain them,” Mr Sreng said.
Investigating Judge Seng Bunna declined to comment yesterday.
However, prosecutor Ith Sothea confirmed that the men were sent to pre-trial detention on Friday.
“The investigating judge decided to send them to the provincial prison on Friday,” Mr Sothea said.
The Kampong Thom Provincial Environment Department on Thursday filed a complaint to the provincial court against the three men.
Top Kakada, director of the provincial environment department, said Mr Chankompheak was the community chief of the Choam Mrech Nature Protected Area and colluded with others to clear protected land to sell.
Mr Kakada noted that 180 villagers in the community had earlier filed complaints to the department against Mr Chankompheak, Mr Saroeun and Mr Han over illegal forest clearing.
“We went to investigate and found enough evidence to support the villagers’ claims,” Mr Kakada said. “[Mr Chankompheak, Mr Saroeun and Mr Han] colluded to clear community forest land.”
He added that he had questioned the men on Wednesday.
Mr Kakada noted that the Environment Ministry provided about 3,000 hectares of land to the community in 2004.
“The community chief has the right to use the land for the community, but he does not have the right to sell the land to others,” Mr Kakada said.