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Officials leery of villagers in Bokor park

THE director of Bokor National Park on Thursday threatened to forcibly remove villagers suspected to be living illegally on a designated conservation site, though Kampot provincial officials said no action would be taken until they could study the site and determine whether the villagers had any right to the land.

An estimated 166 families have relocated to about 150 hectares of land within a Bokor conservation site over the past year, said Yang Phirom, the park director.

But only 50 families have been regularly found in their houses at the conservation site, he said, which could be an indication that they are merely squatting on the land in the hope that they will receive compensation for it later.

"We are very concerned about the issue of land-grabbing," Yang Phirom said.

He added that it has been difficult to obtain much information on the families in recent months, as the land on which they are staying is often inaccessible during the rainy season.

"We are trying to get exact statistics, and then we will ask them to leave peacefully from the conservation area," he said.

"If they do not agree to leave, then we will take legal action and remove them by force because we cannot allow land-grabbing here in the park," he said.

Officials to investigate
Chhouk district Governor Khem Horm also said Thursday that officials have noticed an influx of migrants from other provinces moving there.

"We are not sure how many people have come to grab land there, and we don't know what their impact on the conservation area might be," he said.

Heng Voantha, a deputy provincial governor, said no villagers will be asked to leave before officials study the area and make sure it is not part of a social land concession.

"I don't think any villagers will be asked to leave while we are studying this," he said.

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