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Men charged in bulldozing protected forest

120726_06

Two men charged with encroachment on protected land exit Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday charged two government officials and four farmers from Kampong Thom province’s Stoung district with encroachment onto protected land after they allegedly bulldozed a flooded forest that was designated as a protected fish hatchery, police and NGO officials said.

Hang Thol, deputy commander of Kampong Thom’s provincial military police, said that on Tuesday, authorities arrested Cheat Sivutha, director of Kampong Thom’s Department of Water Resources and Meteorology, and Sam Proch, the local village chief, along with farmers Meng Phally, Chum Teav Thav Tum, Theang Thea and Kim Leng for destroying the markers denoting the protected land’s boundaries, then converting it to reservoirs and irrigation canals for rice farming.

“I have yet to know what action the municipal court will take against them,” Thol said, adding that authorities confiscated 45 pieces of excavating machinery in the crackdown. “Grabbing flooded forest land has a serious impact on fish shelters, because in the rainy season, fish come to spawn in the area.”

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for the human rights group Adhoc, said the suspects were questioned at the order of Judge Sen Neang, adding that the charges are encouraging for villagers in the area because the authorities had previously acted with impunity.

“We will assist the court in implementing the law and condemning [the suspects] for what they committed, and hope that after questioning they are not freed,” he said.

Va Sakda, Phnom Penh municipal court prosecutor, said that the case was sent to the investigating judge, but refused to comment further.

Judge Seng Neang, who signed the group’s arrest warrants, could not be reached for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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