Police and forestry officials over the past two days razed more than 200 makeshift huts, which they said were illegally built at the foot of Siem Reap’s Phnom Kulen National Park by migrant residents who logged the protected forest.
“They logged the state‘s forest and then built cottages illegally to live there at Phnom Kulen, which is a conservation area, so we must follow our forest law,” said Tea Kim Soth, Siem Reap’s Forest Administration Department chief.
Authorities demolished a total of 208 poorly built shelters at Banteay Srey district’s Tbeng commune during a nonviolent two-day campaign, district police chief Muy Nom said.
Some of the nearly 200 affected people, who originally came from provinces including Banteay Meanchey, Pursat and Battambang, are currently displaced, while others are living with nearby households, Kim Soth added.
“Now, at that area, some villagers are living legally and some are living illegally,” said Tbeng commune community representative Doung Derm. “Most of them are migrants from other provinces and were living there illegally.”
Police are not searching for the villagers, but the Siem Reap Provincial Court has issued a warrant to arrest more than four “ringleaders” who allegedly persuaded residents to live in and log the protected area.
Kim Soth was unable to give the suspects’ names, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation, but said that police are searching for the perpetrators.
The residents refused to give comment.
Also within Siem Reap, 20 families living in the Angkor Wat complex are gearing up to relocate to an eco-village set up by the Apsara Authority after they were found to be overcrowding parts of the World Heritage site.
The families, who were chosen through a lottery, will move before the end of the month to the Run Ta-Ek village, which was constructed in 2010 to house past residents of the temple complex, Apsara spokeswoman Kerya Chau Sun said.
They will mark the first group from the 107 families that applied for the lottery and which Apsara recommended be relocated in an effort to limit housing growth.
“Each family will get land, wood and some materials and tools for building their houses for free,” Chau Sun said.
The new residents will each receive a plot of land where they can build a 15 by 25-metre house and a one-acre (0.4 hectare) farm.
According to Run Ta Ek commune chief Kuy Vey, the Angkor villagers were previously concerned that they will be evicted without compensation.
“But they’re no longer worried . . . since Apsara is not forcibly evicting them after complaints and has provided homes and plots for them,” Vey said.