The Pursat Provincial Environment Department has issued a one-week deadline to more than 30 families to remove their dwellings, livestock and crops from a protected area in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary which they illegally occupied.
Pan Morokot, provincial environment department director, yesterday said that in 2017 the 31 families had resettled, cleared forest land and put up boundary fences on more than 100 hectares of land in the sanctuary in Veal Veng district’s Stung Thmey village.
“The location where those people live is land which a royal decree put under the management of the Ministry of Environment and established as the Stung Thmey protected area for preservation,” he noted. “So, the resettlement of these 31 families goes against the Protected Areas Law.”
Mr Morokot said the department had asked the families to move out several times and offered to help them relocate in the past, but they stayed put.
He said the department has now given them seven days, from November 11 to 18, for them to remove their dwellings, livestock sheds, fences and crops and relocate to other locations on their own; failing which, it will take administrative measures to clear the locations in accordance with legal procedure.
“Once the deadline is over, the Pursat Provincial Department of Environment will take action to remove structures without any liability for loss and damage,” Mr Morokot said. “Any citizen who resists or goes against the decision will be punished in accordance with the law.”
He said the families are migrants from other provinces such as Battambang, Pailin and Prey Veng who occupied the area with the help of brokers.
Mr Morokot noted that provincial authorities had previously arrested a broker and four to five accomplices following court orders and they have been charged and detained in prison.
Ham Te, a representative of the Stung Thmey protected area community and the 31 families, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Sam Chankea, Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provincial coordinator of rights group Adhoc, yesterday expressed support for the provincial environment department’s action if the families are actually living in protected areas.
“We support having action taken against them if they actually violated laws to grab land in the protected area,” he said. “At the same time, I would also like to request the provincial authorities, as well as the Environment Department, to carry out an investigation to find out if there are really poor people who have never violated any laws and have no land to live on.”
“The provincial authorities should grant them Social Land Concessions if this is the case,” Mr Chankea added.