Three commune chiefs in Kampot province’s Teuk Chhou district have now separately issued letters annulling their previous signatures on land deals in the protected area of Preah Monivong Bokor National Park.
The sudden about-face by all three commune chiefs met with strong disapproval by the people who were involved in the land deals in question and they are preparing to send a letter to the provincial administration requesting mediation.
The three letters were issued by Prek Tnort commune chief Kong Bunra, Koh Touch commune chief Chhouk Pho and Boeung Touk commune chief Moul Sokhom.
All three wrote that they hereby annul their previously signed documents regarding land – including letters of ownership transfer, land use permission or land purchase agreements for any and all land plots within the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park.
“The reason that I signed all of those land documents was because I didn’t have a good understanding about the customary rules and I saw that those people had been relying on the land,” was stated by all three commune chiefs in each of their respective letters.
So Bunthoeun, Teuk Chhou district deputy police chief, told The Post on July 26 that after the three commune chiefs issued their letters of annulment the district’s officials were contacted by people who had purchased the land or believed they had ownership of it because they had relied on the now-annulled documents previously recognized by the commune authorities and they will officially protest the move.
“People are gathering together the relevant documents needed to argue their side; they are acting in accordance with the law. They have requested a meeting with the provincial governor ... They haven’t submitted [any documents] to the provincial hall yet, so we will wait and see what happens next,” Bunthoeun said.
Kampot Provincial Hall’s administration chief Veth Vathana declined to comment on July 26. None of the three commune chiefs could be reached for comment.
Yun Phally, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, told The Post that in order to avoid any protests the provincial authorities should look into the land allocation ... and check who was really relying on the land for their sustenance.
He also said that the authorities should prosecute those who continue to encroach on forest land in the protected areas and punish them.
“According to statute, the officials who issued the inappropriate letters must be held accountable before the law, which means that when the certificate is inappropriate then the certifier is also in the wrong and the [transfer] of the land is illegal. But for this case, we should look at whether these people have been relying on the land,” he said.
There have been a number of commune chiefs recently in Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom, Mondulkiri and other provinces who have also announced the annulment of their signatures after the Ministry of Environment issued a letter in May instructing them to immediately stop signing such documents for lands in protected areas and biodiversity conservation corridors because it is illegal for them to do so.
Analyst Lao Mong Hay said that even though the commune chiefs annulled their previous signatures they should not be free from any consequences if they are guilty of causing these problems.
He said that the commune chiefs who rejected and revoked the documents that they had illegally signed and stamped as a state authority must be held accountable in front of the people and law for their misdeeds.
Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra confirmed that many commune chiefs have now annulled their signatures in accordance with the ministry’s guidance.
He stated that his ministry would continue to monitor the implementation of these measures at the commune level and will take action against any local authority that is violating the law.
“We will take strong action against any commune administration that continues to sign these documents and abuse their authority by transferring title or approving applications for land tenure on state forest land that has been illegally encroached on,” he said.