A married couple and another man were called before a judge yesterday after being charged with clearing protected forest in Koh Kong province’s Kandorl commune.
Kry Deuy, his wife, Moeung Yan, and a man named Soun Sareth cleared about 16 hectares of state-protected forest to cultivate the land and plant crops, police said.
The clearing was finished in early April but authorities did not make an arrest until May 15.
In Kongchit, provincial coordinator for human right group Licadho, said the residents were arrested as part of a joint operation that included military police and forestry administration officials.
He added that another 18 families had also illegally cleared land for cultivation, but weren’t at the scene when the arrests occurred.
“They were unaware of this being the state’s forest land, and they were absolutely impoverished and had no farmland to do cultivation,” he said.
“The local authority should prohibit them, and if they do not follow the warning after it has been made several times, the law will be placed to take legal action,” he said.
An official from the forestry administration who asked not to be named had no sympathy for the three.
“They are criminals,” he said.
He added that the court, apart from the arrests, also issued a warrant to arrest the other families who took part.
Under Cambodian law, clearing land in a state-protected forest can bring stiff penalties, including jail sentences of five to 10 years.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at firstname.lastname@example.org