Land Grabbers Target National Park

Ros Chanveasna / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

About 200 villagers have attempted to grab forestry land in Bokor National Park after being misinformed and incited by an alleged ringleader, according to Kampot provincial authorities.
Deputy provincial governor Sim Vuthea told Khmer Times yesterday that the villagers attempted to seize 3,000 hectares in the park.
“Last week, about 200 people from Kampong Speu and other provinces seized 3,000 hectares of forest land under the Environment Ministry’s control in Bokor National Park,” he said, adding that residents had divided themselves into small groups and built some temporary shacks on the land they cleared.
“They have set up their own guidelines, that if you can clear the forestry land – as much as you can – the occupied land will belong to you.”
Provincial authorities are blaming Pav Buntha, believed to be the head of a retired soldiers and disabled people’s development association based in Phnom Penh, for inciting villagers to grab land and protest against authorities.
“We found that he [Mr. Buntha] stayed behind and led the land-grabbers’ protest against provincial officials, who were trying to educate the villagers over their illegal actions,” Mr. Vuthea said.  
“Provincial officials went to stop the villagers from grabbing forest land illegally, but a lot of anarchists surrounded and blocked officials as they were attempting to investigate the land-grabbing activities.”
Park ranger chief Uk Chandina said that the land-grabbers – who hailed from Phnom Penh and Kampong Speu, Prey Veng, Kampong Cham and Takeo provinces – had just cleared one hectare of forest land.
“After we educated them about their illegal actions on forest land, most villagers gave up their effort to grab land and returned home. About 60 villagers still remain inside the national park,” he said.
He added that last week, park rangers and military police confiscated 20 machetes from the villagers as they were cutting down trees inside the park.
Mr. Chandina said that provincial authorities do not want to make trouble with the land-grabbers.
“We are trying to educate them to understand that their activities violate the laws of the Kingdom if they are still clearing the national park land,” he said.
However, provincial authorities are still investigating and keeping an eye on Mr. Buntha.  “Legal action will be taken against him,” Mr. Chandina said.

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