The Prey Lang Community Network in Preah Vihear province has asked the government to investigate the building of homes in a protected area by a group of families claiming they were granted a social land concession.
Phok Hong, a PLCN representative, said the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 2016, and since then, about 700 families have grabbed land totalling nearly 5,000 hectares to build homes.
Ms Hong said the families were being led by a wealthy businessman, Heng Vichet, who lives in Phnom Penh.
“Every time we patrol the forest, we see more and more homes that have been built,” said Ms Hong. “No ministry has permitted these social land concessions.”
Ms Hong has asked the Ministry of Environment to take action to prevent land grabbing in the protected area under the guise of social land concessions, which harms the environment and local villagers’ livelihoods.
Ea Sokha, director of the Preah Vihear environment department, said a request for a social land concession of 4,700 hectares in Rovieng district’s Reab Roy commune for 750 families was made in 2015 before the government issued a sub-decree to create the protected area.
However, Mr Sokha said provincial leaders had not yet finalised or approved the concession, adding that people were grabbing land prior to the proper procedures being followed. “We have to manage the disagreement between those grabbing the land and those protecting the forest,” said Mr Sokha.
Environment Minister Say Samal said the ministry will set up an inter-ministerial working group to investigate the complex case.
“I will work with the Ministry of Interior, the provincial level and the Ministry of Land Management because all social land concessions require a transfer from the Ministry of Environment,” he said, noting one had not yet been granted in the Prey Lang area.
“This case, I see that it seems not so easy, so we will set up a working group to confirm what is actually happening,” he said.