The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has set tentative dates in December this year to announce the verdicts for three separate wildlife sanctuary land grab cases, which happened last year.
Provincial court spokeswoman Chum Kaniya said on December 10 that the court’s investigating judge had heard the three cases of forest logging and land encroachment on December 8.
On December 10, deputy head of the provincial Department of Environment Meas Nhem said he attended the hearings for all three cases.
These cases are about illegal forest logging in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, the clearing of 4ha land in the same sanctuary, as well as the forest clearing and encroachment on 70ha of state land in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary in Choam Ksan and Tbeng Meanchey districts.
The case of land grabbing in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary also involves death threats and attempted murder of foreigner Ben Davis, who operates an eco-tourism business inside the sanctuary and conducts forest patrols.
“We filed complaints to reclaim 4ha of state forest land in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary and requested for 70ha of forest land in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary to be reclaimed as state property,” Nhem said.
A total of six suspects were detained, each having been held for a period of six months to one year, depending on the nature of each case.
Four offenders had been charged with “logging, clearing state land illegally and making death threats” in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary.
Two other offenders were charged for illegal logging and land grabbing in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary.
On December 10, Set Tep, who represents 12 ethnic minority communities in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, said that previously forest land grabbing was rife.
“But environment officials filed a court complaint against the offenders. Some offenders had signed agreements to stop the activities while others had been educated [by officials].
“Currently, there are no land grab activities [in the sanctuary], but there are still some illegal logging activities,” he said.
Nevertheless, Tep still urged the authorities and specialists to pay more attention to possible illegal activities in the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary and the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary.
He claimed that although there are much lesser illegal activities now, the offenders could be secretly monitoring the enforcement efforts of officials. He warned that if law enforcement is lax, the offenders will resume their illegal activities.