Areport prepared for Prime Minister Hun Sen and obtained by the Post documents
widespread land grabbing in Siem Reap province and calls for the prosecution of
those involved in the illegal deals.
Written by Vann Sophanna, director
of the Forestry Administration's northern region, the January 2005 report claims
that more than half of Banteay Srey district's 29,000 hectares of Permanent
Forest Estate (PFE) have been illegally claimed by private
PFEs are defined as forested areas that can only be managed by
the government, concession holders, local communities or "other forest users"
for the purpose of long-term sustainability.
Sophanna insists that
landholders who have bought or taken lands defined as PFE must return their
plots to the state or face legal action.
"I think that a public awareness
campaign about forestry has not stopped the land grabs. Therefore, from now we
have to take legal action against those powerful individuals and the rich," he
Sophanna investigated land ownership in Khnar Sanday, Rumchek,
Preah Dak, Thbang and Ta Ek communes, all located north of the Angkor
His report named 97 people who said they owned a
combined total of 2,483 hectares of protected land. A further 14,616 hectares
were claimed by unidentified parties. Most of the identified landowners were
from Phnom Penh.
The report included a map of the areas illegally
acquired (see page 2), photographs of bulldozers clearing forested land and
numerous thumb-printed complaints from locals angry about being denied access to
land that previously sustained their livelihoods.
Sophanna said that as
property values increased, those with power and money were using local officials
to claim the land, which was sometimes occupied or used by local communities.
The 2002 Forestry Law gives ownership of all "forested" lands to the
government. It doesn't, however, give a clear definition of what is meant by
"forested". As a result, many are eager to claim ownership of land not yet
demarcated and clear it before a stricter interpretation of the law is
Some landholders gained approval from village, commune or
district chiefs to have cadastral officials survey PFE lands and produce land
titles. Others hired local villagers to clear the forest and sell it on behalf
of the landowner.
Un Vong, district governor of Banteay Srei, refuted the
results of the report, telling the Post April 19 that no land grabbing was
occurring in his district.
His name, however, appears on a document dated
July 1, 2004, transferring a 440-hectare plot from "villagers" to "Miss Um
The document also bears official stamps and signatures from the
chiefs of Khnar Sanday and Rumchek communes, where the land is located.
When pressed for details about the documents, Vong, speaking by
telephone, said that he did not want to confirm anything, suggested the Post
come to Banteay Srey and then hung up.
About 185 villagers from Khnar
Sanday and Rumchek commune said their living conditions were affected by the
illegal deals and thumb printed an appeal for the government to reclaim the
Sophanna, who is also an advisor to Senate president Chea Sim,
compiled the 85-page report after an April 31, 2004, speech by Hun Sen. At the
time, Hun Sen urged the rich and powerful to give up any land they had acquired
Other provincial authorities had failed to heed the prime
minister's call to protect state-owned land.
Rampant land snatching would
have long-term effects for the population in Siem Reap and its tourism industry,
"I think that within the next 15 years there will be no
water to use, and the temples will also be affected when there is no forest to
protect them," he said.