The Koh Kong Provincial Administration plans to officially allocate 150,000ha of land in conservation and other natural protected areas throughout the province to more than 30,000 families who have lived on the sites for many years to facilitate solving land-related issues for the residents and securing their rights to live and rely on the land.
Deputy provincial governor Sok Sothy told The Post that more than 90 per cent of the land in Koh Kong is classified as protected. Officially issuing precise allotments of land to the residents is also intended to prevent further illegal encroachment.
“By allocating land to them, the residents will no longer have problems with protected areas. The land allocation covers 150,000ha for more than 30,000 families. Apart from that, the land is reserved for the provincial administration to provide as social land concessions and use for public services,” he said.
According to Sothy, the land allocation project has proceeded from a Council of Ministers meeting on July 3 of last year when land was approved for allocating to the public, especially in Koh Kong. Families will typically receive 3ha to 5ha.
Thong Chandara, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said: “If the process is done in a transparent manner, the land will reach the people. Otherwise, benefits may go to others, such as rich or powerful people,” he said.
According to provincial Department of Environment director Morn Phalla, for the whole of last year, department rangers made 1,083 patrols for natural resource crimes, recording 733 total cases, including 83 which were referred to the court.
Of those, 69 were cases entailed only evidence being sent to court without suspects, while the other 14 were cases where suspects were referred to court along with evidence. Thirty-one other cases resulted in fines, and 119 cases were closed with individuals signing cease and desist orders.
“The most difficult situations our rangers face when dealing with encroachment in protected areas are instances when people gather in groups to protest against enforcement of the laws,” he said.
Following the government’s official sub-decree to allocate land for people’s legal use, Phalla hoped it would result in a reduction in encroachment in protected areas because residents would have legal assurances and clear demarcation for the land on which they can live and farm.
According to Phalla, crimes of encroaching on protected forest lands occur in almost all districts of Koh Kong. Currently, there are only 110 park rangers responsible for patrolling the province which has a land area of around one million hectares.