Pursat provincial police are questioning two men, including a village chief, for allegedly forging public documents to clear and grab over 37ha in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.
The director of the provincial Department of Environment, Pan Morokort, said on Thursday that the village chief in Pramuoy commune is 69-years-old and his accomplice, 33. He did not provide their names.
He said provincial governor Mao Thonin ordered authorities to investigate the case and when local and provincial authorities were looking into the accusations, they discovered the forged documents in Pramuoy village.
Police arrested the suspects on Monday as they were using machinery to clear the land and make documents in an attempt to sell it to others, he said.
The suspects, Thonin said, were taken to the provincial police station for questioning. Meanwhile, the authorities are continuing to hunt down other suspects linked to the case, he said.
“They had not cleared all the land yet when we got information about the crime, found the fake documents and took action. We believe that other people are linked to the case. We are collecting more evidence to send them to the court too,” he said.
Pramuoy commune chief Sek Sam Ath could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Sam Chankea said he was aware of the case and supported the measures taken by the authorities.
He said both state and private land was at risk of being stolen through document-forging schemes. Such cases lead to complicated land disputes, he noted.
“We must strengthen law enforcement and take firm legal action against the suspects, especially the village chief as he has power and he used it to commit the crime. Sometimes, someone more powerful is behind him, so he showed no respect for the law.
“For ordinary people who are involved in land grabs, they are mostly cheated into doing so. Or, they don’t have land, so they grab it, but authorities should educate them or grant them social land concessions,” Chankea said.