The Kampot provincial Department of Environment warned people who have encroached upon land in Preah Monivong Bokor National Park and claimed it as their own to voluntarily remove their boundary posts or huts by December 15 or face legal action.
Department director Eng Polo said on December 8 that when the deadline passes, authorities will commence enforcement of legal action against anyone still squatting there.
Polo said he had no data on the number of people involved or plots that have been encroached upon. Opportunists, he said, have illegally occupied the land because there are not many rangers in the area.
“If we look at satellite imagery we can see that there are many recent encroachments, especially from late 2020 to early 2021,” he said.
He said that if the people responsible voluntarily leave the occupied land, they won’t have any further problems, otherwise they will face legal action.
Yun Phally, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said those offenders should return the land to the state voluntarily and that law enforcement should be carried out transparently.
“Whether they are rich, poor or powerful, as long as they encroach on state land belonging to the park, they have to leave voluntarily,” he said.
He said not many residents have encroached on the land there, claiming that most of the offenders are actually powerful people.
Polo asserted that law enforcement is not biased for or against the rich or the powerful and that the law would be enforced without exceptions.
The Ministry of Environment has said it is considering options for dealing with offenders who encroach on the National Park, but no decision has been made yet.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said earlier that there were 192 illegal encroachments on more than 700ha of state forest land in eight communes in Chhouk and Teuk Chhou districts and in Kampot town.
He said the encroachment was not on land that people used to rely on for their livelihoods, but on state land and this illegal encroachment must be stopped according to the law without exceptions.
“The measures to prevent illegal occupation of the land and take offenders to court are in the hands of the environment ministry,” he said.