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NGO files suit over ‘seizures’ in Phnom Oral

A Kampong Speu-based NGO has accused a police officer and several rangers working for the provincial Environment Department of seizing more than 100 hectares of Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, demanding a court order to restore the land and hold the parties to account.

The Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization (NRWPO) has submitted a lawsuit to Kampong Speu Provincial Court, accepted on Monday, requesting the return of the land, which is protected by royal decree.

The complaint, sent to a number of government and UN departments, detailed an investigation by NRWPO into deforestation in the sanctuary. The probe concluded that Phnom Oral’s district deputy police chief, Piv Veng, alongside seven environment officials, had illegally seized 100.5 hectares of land since 2008.

“The officials employed villagers to clear the forest for land as personal assets . . . and this is against the law,” the letter stated. “We are demanding that the court seize it back as state property and the offenders be brought to justice.”

NRWPO director Chea Hean claimed that Piv Veng had cleared about 50 hectares of land, of which he had sold some 30 hectares at a price of $1,000 per hectare. He also alleged that environment officials had cleared areas within the sanctuary that they were using for private cultivation and commercial activity.

“Initially, they logged the forest for the land. It is collusion, otherwise they could not hold the land in a protected area like this,” he said. “They used to threaten to kill me and send me to jail because of land clearing.”

Veng, however, denied any wrongdoing, claiming ignorance of the land-clearing allegations entirely.

“He can file the complaint, but I do not know about the case,” he stated.

Phnom Oral’s patrol chief could not be reached for comment, but the director of Kampong Speu’s Environment Department, Heng Kuon, who manages the sanctuary, expressed disbelief that environment officials would clear land they were charged with protecting.

“File it to the court and let the court solve it first,” he said. “But I do not believe that the environment officials would dare to do this.”

Chea Hean said that the letter was forwarded to Kampong Speu Provincial Court, whose director could not be reached for comment.

Phnom Oral has recently been the site of multiple allegations of illegal deforestation, including the sale of contraband timber by military officials.

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