The Battambang Provincial Court has placed three people in pre-trial detention in connection with the illegal occupation of land in the flooded forest area of Zone 3 of the Tonle Sap Lake.
The provincial Fisheries Administration, which sent the three suspects to court on January 14, said the flooded forest is located in the Krapeu Skom area in Prey Chas village of Ek Phnom district’s Prey Chas commune.
Chea Chanraksmey, director of the court’s secretariat, told The Post briefly on January 18 that the three suspects had been charged with illegal deforestation in the flooded area.
“The case is in the hands of the investigating judge, so I cannot comment further as it could affect the confidentiality of the judge’s investigation,” she said.
Chuong Sophea, director of the provincial Fisheries Administration, identified the three suspects as Sek Sokun, Sek Leang Hay and Sek Sonang. He said they had each admitted to occupying 30ha of the land.
Sophea said the three were among 12 people that had been summonsed for questioning.
“The trio confessed that they had violated the 2006 Fisheries Regulation law and regulation for ‘clearing or encroaching on flooded forest land’,” he said.
He said authorities allowed the eight other suspects to return home after finding that they were not involved, while the ninth did not respond to the summons.
Separately, the Kampong Thom Provincial Administration is investigating the deputy director of the provincial Department of Economy and Finance, who is accused of occupying more than 100ha of land and refusing to return it to the state.
Provincial governor Nguon Ratanak told The Post on January 18 that his team would investigate the case against the deputy director who was accused of refusing to return occupied land to the state.
Ratanak said that even if there was no voluntary handover, any land that had been grabbed would be confiscated.
“Our team is measuring and carrying out research. We don’t know the facts yet. It’s important to establish the facts, because if land has been occupied illegally, we will return it to state ownership, whether it is handed back or not,” he said.
Local media recently reported that the deputy director, Sou Chantry, had encroached on 106ha of flooded forest land in Stung Sen town’s Srayov commune.
Chantry denied any wrongdoing, telling The Post on January 18 that he had purchased the land from many people since 1980.
“I am not occupying or clearing any land anymore. It was returned to the state as soon the Prime Minister made the announcement even though some media continues to publish accusations. I returned the land to the state and have the documents to show that. I just haven’t published them yet,” he said.
The state with proper document too, but I haven’t published,” he said.
According to Ratanak, as of January 18 more than 2,000 families had volunteered to return more than 10,000 ha of flooded forest land in three areas around the Tonle Sap Lake, while more than 40sq km of flooded forest land was being replanted.