The Ministry of Environment yesterday rebuffed a statement made by Khmer Rise Party president Soksovann Vathana Sabung, who accused local authorities of using undue violence and illegally detaining between 30 and 50 villagers living in Preah Sihanouk province’s Ream commune, in Prey Nop district earlier this year. Mr Vathana Sabung, said the ministry, violated the chain of command by conducting unpermitted investigations.
In a press release issued yesterday, the ministry said Mr Vathana Sabung, who is also a member of the Supreme Consultative Council, on Saturday conducted an investigation in Prey Nop district’s Ream National Park without informing and collaborating with the Environment Ministry, which has jurisdiction over the area. It said Mr Vathana Sabung’s actions undermined the ministry’s authority and could encourage others to follow suit.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Mr Vathana Sabung accused local authorities
of using excessive force and illegally detaining between 30 and 50 villagers who live in the area.
“There was no violence nor detention of any citizen as stated by the Khmer Rise Party president. The people who came to protest and were considered as victims by the KRP president were actually illegal land grabbers, as
the land [they occupied] had already been registered as state land,” the ministry’s statement said.
“The activity carried out by the KRP delegate in Ream National Park has clearly demonstrated that he has no real intention of cooperating with local authorities and respecting the ministry’s jurisdiction,” said the ministry.
Mr Vathana Sabung could not be reached for comment yesterday.
However, he stated on his Facebook page that his investigation into the national park was carried out in accordance with the laws of the Supreme Consultative Council. He
said the investigation was conducted in response to complaints lodged by four residents representing 134 families in Prey Nop district, claiming authorities illegally detained some of the residents.
“In general and in accordance with the SCC, there is no obligation to inform the authorities in advance when I carried out the investigation as it was meant to find out what really happened to the residents. Any prior notice could have compromised the investigation. I welcome any law or article that stipulates the SCC is required to ask for permission from subnational officials to carry out investigations,” he said.
The ministry noted that in August last year, ministry officials in collaboration with provincial authorities conducted an inspection in the Ream National Park following reports of land encroachment in the area.
It said rangers and Prey Nop district police officers on Saturday summoned for questioning three residents who were allegedly involved in land encroachment in an area in which such offence has previously been stopped.
In January this year, provincial officials clashed with a group of villagers armed with sticks and machetes as the officials were trying to dismantle illegally built homes in the protected area.