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Commune chiefs back-pedal on state land signatures

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Tem Thun, chief of Kakoh commune in Kampong Thom province’s Santuk district. FACEBOOK

Commune chiefs back-pedal on state land signatures

Authorities in several provinces have issued letters annulling their previously signed orders regarding land occupied in protected areas and biodiversity corridors after the Ministry of Environment issued a letter in May calling their actions illegal.

The ministry said in May that local authorities had given permission to requests for occupation, land use and state land purchase agreements when the map showed that the location of the land in question was within protected natural areas and biodiversity conservation corridors, rendering all of these agreements illegal.

In Treng Trayoeng commune of Phnom Sruoch district in Kampong Speu province, commune chief Keo Sophat announced on May 28 the annulment of all her signatures that she had made previously confirming land ownership.

Sophat claimed that she signed those documents without having a good understanding herself of what they meant and had relied on customary rules because she saw that those people had been relying on the land.

“I would like to annul all documents, applications for transfer of land tenure, sale and purchase and all types of maps in the protected area and in the biodiversity corridor of Monivong Bokor National Park and in Preah Suramarit Kosomak Kirirom National Park from the date of this announcement,” she said in the letter.

In Kampong Thom province, Santuk district’s Kakoh commune’s chief Tem Thorn also issued a letter on May 30 announcing the annulment and revocation of all letters he had signed earlier.

He said all of the sales, purchases and transfer documents of any kind of land that had not been registered for recognition by the Cadastral Administration – especially those in the Trop Nhok community land located in Sala Santuk and Chi Meak villages – are now annulled.

“In the past, I have signed letters of sale and letters of transfer of ownership of real estate [without the authority to do so]. Therefore, that land is still state land and no one can encroach on it. Any land that people have bought or sold or issued certificates of land history for it, I reject and repeal my signature – it is to be completely disregarded,” Thorn stated in the letter.

In a similar case, Trapaing Chor commune hall in Oral district on June 1 also issued a letter revoking the possession of more than 2,000ha of land in Kbal Damrey and Kravek villages owned by Ly Sok Ngyim.

The annulment of land ownership in protected areas is also happening in other communes in Kampong Speu, Mondulkiri, Kampong Thom and Koh Kong provinces.

Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post on July 4 that the ministry had required sub-national authorities to immediately stop signing documents authorising illegal land occupation, especially in protected areas and conservation areas.

Pheaktra said that anywhere these illegal activities are continuing the ministry will take action without exception.

“[The Ministry] will take strict legal action against any commune and district administration that continues to sign any letters of transfer or related requests for land use, especially on land that has been cleared or encroached upon that is forest land in a protected area,” he said.

Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said that during the recent Covid-19 outbreak there had been encroachments on state-owned public lands and some protected areas. The encroachment was mainly due to systematic collusion between local authorities and the people trying to take possession of large tracts of land by paying others to carry out numerous smaller encroachments.

Sen Karuna hoped the government would confiscate and reclaim the illegally occupied land and that officials who commit illegal acts by signing documents illegally have to be punished according to the law.

“Signing and granting rights [to state lands in protected areas] are illegal acts. Those who did this cannot just say that they do not understand the process and try to get out of legal consequences. All of these actions should be reviewed by the authorities from the national to the grassroots level,” he said, adding that land occupied illegally should be confiscated as it is misappropriated state property.

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