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Authorities to reclaim illegally seized land inside sanctuary

Officials from the Ministry of Environment and the Kampong Speu Provincial Department of Environment in late January inspect a disputed area inside the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo supplied
Officials from the Ministry of Environment and the Kampong Speu Provincial Department of Environment in late January inspect a disputed area inside the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo supplied

Authorities to reclaim illegally seized land inside sanctuary

Kampong Speu provincial authorities on Friday said they will reclaim more than 2,000 hectares of land inside the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, though six officials interrogated earlier this month for allegedly grabbing the land will only be “educated”.

Oral district deputy police chiefs Prak Moul and Morm An, Tasal Commune Chief Dul Sokhum, Doung Village Chief Orn Kong, Trapang Thmea Village Chief Y Doem and Kammpes Village Chief Sorn Vong were questioned earlier this month by Chheun Sothun, director of the provincial Environment Department, over the alleged illegal activity.

According to the summons, they were questioned over the “clearing, logging, burning and bulldozing [of] forest land for private ownership”.

Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Preservation Organization in Kampong Speu, told The Post previously that in 2014 and 2015 officials colluded to recruit some 200 families – paying them $250 to $300 each – to occupy the land, with authorities issuing ownership documents.

Once the families had obtained those documents, they then allegedly sold the land on to brokers, with some of the money going back to the officials behind the scheme.

A team was deployed to investigate in late January on the orders of provincial Governor Vei Samnang, who on Friday issued a letter to authorities asking them to revoke land ownership in the area immediately.

Samnang said people who claim to have ownership of the land have 30 days to file complaints about the seizure.

“Our target focuses on finding the people who damaged the forest and [for them to] pay for the damage,” he said. “If they show up, it’s better. We know who they are.”

Regarding the six officials who were questioned, Samnang referred questions to Sothun, with the Environment Department.

He said his office will make the seizure of the land known to residents in the area by installing billboards saying that it is under the department’s management. He added that a reforestation plan will also be carried out.

Officials he questioned earlier this month over their alleged involvement in the case would only be “educated”. He declined to comment on what other action would be taken against them, and denied accusations environmental officials were also involved in the scheme.

“They know this is the land inside the wildlife sanctuary,” he said.

“They [were] educated.”

According to Hean, such crimes cannot occur without the systematic involvement of officials from the local to the provincial level, including environmental officials.

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