Mangroves and wetland areas in four coastal provinces are being illegally cleared and filled in order to grab land and build homes for private ownership, said a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries dated November 19.
Its minister, Veng Sakhon sent the letter to authorities in Kep, Kampot, Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces, requesting action to ensure the areas’ preservation.
“Recently, ownership documents [have been issued] for mangroves in many fishing communities, especially in Preah Sihanouk province,” the letter read.
Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the ministry continues to implement the law.
“If there is a report about the crime, please submit it to the ministry for examination and solve it,” he said.
The Fishery Law states that flooded mangrove forests play an important role in the fishery sector, so clearing, logging, filling and surrounding land for private ownership is banned.
Article 3 of a sub-decree dated March 20, 2007, states that “fishing community [areas] are state public property”.
The director of the Cambodian National Research Organisation (CNRO), Sok Sokhom, said: “We notice that relevant experts are taking action to collect documents and send [people] to court, but the crimes in Koh Kong are more complicated [because] environmental officials do not pay much attention.”
He said that such crimes in Koh Kong are on the increase, especially in Andong Teuk and Chroy Svay, and in Preah Sihanouk province, the most violated areas are Stung Hav district and Ream in Prey Nop district.
“If the Ministry of Agriculture only releases a letter and does not take serious action, the offenders will continue to do it. I have not seen any legal action taken against offenders,” Sokhom said.
Preah Sihanouk provincial environment department director Samut Sothearith told The Post: “We cooperate with [police forces] inside and outside of the regions. As long as there are problems, we work with other forces to crack down on the crimes.
“We know the land clearing is related to economic issues. We need to work together to [crack down on] the crimes. Before, we could relax, but now we cannot. [Even] on Saturday or Sunday, we need to patrol, sometimes in the middle of the night.”
Koh Kong provincial Environment Department director Man Phala told The Post on Monday that after receiving the ministry’s letter, he forwarded it to all relevant institutions.
Sun Sophat, a representative of the Preah Sihanouk provincial communities and a land clearing observer told The Post on Monday: “Stung Hav protected forest and Ream National Park have seen [land] grabbing, but no one dares to speak out.
“They not only use human labour [to grab], they also use excavators to clear the forest. After clearing it, they plant trees such as coconut. The offenders are backed by wealthy individuals who pay local people to clear the forest [for them],” he claimed.
Prime Minister Hun Sen last year blamed officials for not revoking any land titles issued illegally in the coastal areas. But despite his stern order to take legal action, such land grabbing is said to continue.