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Stop land theft, warns Hun Sen

PM sees danger of farmers' revolt

Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned government officials, business people and the armed forces that illegal land seizure must stop, or there could be a "farmers' revolution" against the government.

"Stop grabbing land and forestry," he told participants at the National Conference on the Management of Natural Resources to Reduce Poverty. "I declare and announce to all of you who have violated the law and have grabbed forestry areas and encroached on state land for your own property and have affected poor people - especially officials on duty - it is time for you to stop."

He told the 450 government officials and lawmakers attending the December 6-7 conference at Hotel Le Royal that the government would not allow land-grabbing activities to result in a revolution.

"I warn that if [you] continue to grab land there will be a farmers' revolution, and I hope you will understand my difficulty," Hun Sen said. "It is time for you to stop before the people lose their patience."

He said the government would take action against all forestry and land grabbing.

Ty Sokun, Director of Forestry Administration, said the government is committed to maintaining 61 percent of Cambodia's land area - 11 million hectares - as natural forest.

He said grabbing forest for conversion to private property was a threat to forestry natural resources.

Sokun said land encroachment, forestry grabbing and illegal fishing were presently the top offenses across Cambodia.

He said between 1979 and 2002 250,000 hectares of forest had been grabbed by powerful people in the armed forces, and by the rich, especially in the northwest from Chhlong to Mondulkiri.

Sokun said the government has banned the transport of timber since 2002, but the practice has continued.

However, he said illegal timber transport has changed from using trucks to using luxury vehicles such as Toyota Landcruisers.

The Société Général de Surveillance (SGS), the government-appointed forestry monitor, wrote in its Third Quarterly Progress Report for 2005 that during the quarter it conducted a satellite imagery review of selected areas of Cambodian forest land. The review compared satellite images taken in 2002, 2004, and 2005 to calculate loss of forest cover. The analysis covered approximately 80 percent of Cambodia's forest cover.

The report says Cambodia lost 74,000 hectares of forest between 2002 and 2005 in the northeast, 18,000 ha in central areas of the country, and 30,000 ha in the west.

"Losses have occurred in concession areas, forested areas and protected areas," the report says.

On March 21, more than 120 police, military police and soldiers tried to evict 218 families from a disputed four-hectare plot of land in Kbal Spean village near the town of Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province. The stand-off ended when police fired into the crowd of crudely armed demonstrators, killing five and injuring eight others.

Ly Tuch, Chairman of the National Assembly's Commission on Planning, Investment, Agriculture, Rural Development, Environment and Water Resources, said some experts have raised grave concerns over destruction of natural resources in Cambodia and the immediate need for their effective management, preservation and protection.

He said legislators have an important role to play in strengthening the law to protect major productive ecosystems of the country such as inland and marine waters and forests. Their inherent resources, including fish, wildlife and other biodiversity, are significant sources of protein for subsistence, can ensure food security, income generation and wellbeing of the people, and provide commercial products and many other services essential to economic development.

Tuch said community forests and community fisheries inside conservation areas could help protect such ecosystems.

(Additional reporting by Cheang Sokha.)

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