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Coastal authorities called out

A bulldozer clears illegally grabbed coastal mangrove swamps in Kampot province earlier this year. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the land be taken back in a speech on Tuesday.
A bulldozer clears illegally grabbed coastal mangrove swamps in Kampot province earlier this year. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the land be taken back in a speech on Tuesday. Photo supplied

Coastal authorities called out

Preah Sihanouk’s governor yesterday attributed the slow progress in combating private encroachment into ecologically sensitive mangrove and coastal regions to a “careful” approach, after the prime minister on Tuesday chided officials for failing to tackle the issue since it was raised more than a year ago.

Speaking yesterday, Governor Yon Min claimed authorities had not ignored a June 2016 directive from the Council of Ministers to annul land titles granted for more than 300 hectares of filled-in mangrove swamps in Preah Sihanouk, Kep, Kampot and Koh Kong provinces, which was issued after a Ministry of Agriculture report describing their harmful environmental impact.

He insisted the authorities were tackling the encroachments “step by step”, had held “meetings” and would enforce the directive “equally”.

Hun Sen on Tuesday slammed officials for inaction during an environmental forum in Phnom Penh.

“In the past, I ordered to annul the land title so withdraw the land titles and it will become state property. It ends here,” said the premier, who ordered Minister for Land Management Chea Sophara and relevant ministries to review the issue.

“I say it again and again; it is not necessary for the prime minister to order every case because the law demonstrates what all of you can do. Everything is in the law. If the prime minister needs to order in every case, is it even necessary to create the ministry? The prime minister alone does everything.”

The premier’s indignation followed a direct appeal by Sok Sokhom, director of Cambodian National Research Organization, which represents 45 fishery NGOs and communities from coastal provinces.

At the event, Sokhom lamented that Cambodia’s coastline and the “most beautiful beaches in the world” had been degraded by land grabbing and coastal developments – practices, he added, that were at odds with a 2012 directive that a 50-metre zone from the water’s edge should remain untouched.

Reached yesterday, he said he tallied 56 land titles in sensitive areas, including 42 in Kep covering 148 hectares, three in Kampot spanning 73 hectares and seven each in Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk, comprising about 48 hectares each.

Many, he added, were given to high-ranking officials between 2005 and 2013, leaving some 80 percent of coastal land in private hands.

Reached yesterday, Kampot Provincial Hall Administrative Director Suk Sarad declined to comment, as did Seng Lot, the Land Management Ministry spokesman.

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