Sihanoukville Hall is looking to identify ringleaders who instigated violence during a crackdown on illegal land occupation in Ream National Park in Preah Sihanouk province.
It said in a statement on Friday rangers at the national park, police officers and district authorities were dismantling homes illegally built in Prey Nop district’s Ream commune when they were attacked by about a hundred residents wielding petrol bombs, sticks and sharp objects.
City Hall said two district officials and three police officers were injured during the attack.
“Those who were duped by the ringleaders to occupy the state land must voluntarily vacate the premises,” it said. “City Hall will take action to arrest the ringleaders who instigated this movement.”
City Hall said according to Articles 62 and 56 of the Nature Protection Law, those found guilty of occupying and clearing protected forests will be jailed for up to 10 years and be fined up to about $37,000.
Lieutenant Colonel Khem Sophal, deputy chief of district police, yesterday said his injured police officers are still recovering.
“They were injured on their heads due to the attack,” Lt Col Sophal said, adding about 10 families illegally constructed the homes in the national park. “The authorities previously told them to vacate the park, but they did not agree so we had to dismantle the homes.”
Lt Col Sophal said the residents did not come from the district.
“If they were residents of Prey Nop district, they would have known about the protected land,” he said. “They were duped by ringleaders so the residents can clear state land.”
One video posted on social media shows one resident pleading to the authorities to not dismantle her home because she has nowhere else to live.
“I don’t know where to live after this,” the woman said.
He added that now police are seeking the ringleaders who instigated the violence against the authorities.
Last year the Environment Ministry issued a warning against grabbing state-owned land. It said those who occupy protected land must leave or face legal action.
It said those who were caught admitted they need land for housing and growing crops.