The provinces of Kampong Chhnang and Koh Kong yesterday guaranteed legal action against any individual found guilty of encroaching on or engaging in illicit land trade within state-protected forests.
In a statement, Kampong Chhnang provincial hall said 2,045 hectares of land within the Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary have been encroached on, with the discovery of cottages, fences, poles and other structures illegally built by perpetrators who are said to have come from other provinces.
While the ministry has been expending efforts to regain control of the state-protected land through simultaneous crackdowns conducted from May 15 to June 28, the report said some of the encroachers who managed to evade arrest have returned to the sanctuary.
“Some of the offenders have escaped, while some have come back. Others have encouraged the people to seize the land, claiming that doing so will eventually prompt the authorities to provide them with land of their own. That is not true,” it said.
Kuy Leng, chief of Toek Phos district’s Akhphivoat commune, assured the cooperation of the local authorities.
“We always check on newcomers who move to the local community. We monitor their activities and find out their purpose for relocating. We then report to the provincial hall if any suspicious activities are found,” he said.
Meanwhile, a statement from the Koh Kong provincial hall said illegal trade of state-protected land has been cited in the districts of Botum Sakor, Koh Kong, Kiri Sakor and Thmar Baing.
“There have been reports of individuals who engage in the unauthorised buying and selling of plots within natural protected areas,” it said.
As such, the provincial hall called for a stop in such activities and instead encouraged the community to conserve the protected areas.
Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned legal action against officials and people found grabbing state lands. The Ministries of Environment, Land Management and Agriculture were ordered to grant land ownership to long-time occupants of state-protected areas.
“[However] people who do live within state-protected areas are strictly forbidden from grabbing extra land to expand their properties,” said Mr Hun Sen, following reports of further encroachment and abuse of power by officials and wealthy people.
The Ministry of Environment said that the Kingdom is home to 69 natural resource conservation areas covering 7.3 million hectares of land.