Kampong Thom provincial authorities have confiscated more than two dozen dirt excavators in Stoung district over the past week after the machinery had been allegedly used to dig up land for development in a protected area used primarily for breeding fish.
Hang Thol, a military police commander in Kampong Thom, said his forces had cracked down on the illegal destruction of the protected area, which took place in three communes across the district: Msa Krang, Samprorch and Chamna Krom.
The military police operation occurred on the nights of June 29 to July 1.
“We are seeking the arrest of the ringleader for clearing in the protected breeding fish shelter area,” he said.
Hang Thol said he suspected the impoverished villagers had financial backing from an unknown source.
Otherwise, he said, they could not have afforded the expensive excavating machinery.
Phat Saren, a villager living in Chamnor Krom village, said he cleared land to help with rice crops and to build a road that would make travelling to Chimus Mountain easier.
“I did not know of the protected area; we just cleared to make a track and build small reservoirs along the track to store water to do farming only,” Phat Saren said.
When asked about any funding from an outside backer, he said he was unaware of financial support.
Kampong Thom governor Chhun Chhorn said that he did not have information about the dispute but would investigate the matter.
“National-level authorities hear [about disputes like this] directly, and go to work secretly,” he said. “I requested to meet with the national-level authorities to participate in working [on this].”
Bin Chhin, the director of the National Authority for Settling Land Disputes, and the person who ordered military forces to go in at night to make the arrests, could not be reached for comment on the case yesterday.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org