Eight people have been reprimanded and one suspect has been sent to court during the beginning of a 30-day campaign against state land occupation and deforestation in Pursat province.

A large quantity of machinery and equipment has also been seized and will be destroyed, according to a senior official from the Ministry of Environment.

Ministry spokesperson Khvay Atitya told The Post on March 17 that environment minister Eang Sophalleth chaired a recent meeting with senior ministry officials, including the directors of the capital-provincial environment departments, as well as the directors of protected areas throughout the country. 

Following the meeting, a 30-day campaign was launched to crack down on encroachment and deforestation crimes in Pursat province.

The campaign is being supported by 300 Military Police, 250 National Police officers and 786 personal from the sub-national level administrations. Atitya said the total forces were divided into 10 teams.

According to the spokesman, as of March 16, more than 1,956ha of land has been occupied, while the authorities are investigating 705ha of newly cleared land, as well as 23ha which has been planted with crops.

“One suspect has been sent to Pursat Provincial Court for further legal proceedings, while eight others were educated and released,” he said.

He added that the forces also confiscated one tractor, five mowers, two grass herbicide dispensers, multiple timber saw blades and two homemade firearms. They also dismantled 94 huts and destroyed cassava and banana plants.

“Sophalleth issued strict orders for officials to strengthen law enforcement and eliminate illegal logging, burning, or clearing of forest land, as well as the hunting of wildlife in protected areas,” he continued.

He explained that during the meeting, the minister reiterated the need to strengthen measures to control natural resources and biodiversity conservation, for efficient and sustainable development.

According to Atitya, Sophalleth stressed the need for strict law enforcement and called for an end to a “culture of education, guidance and cease-and-desist pledge”, which saw the perpetrators of many natural resource crimes released.

The minister also called for increased cooperation between the capital, provincial and local authorities, as well as the Anti-Corruption Unit and Royal Gendarmerie.

“Promoting the planting of more trees over logging is crucial to maintaining the growth of forest cover and promoting reforestation. Increasing forest cover to over 60 per cent is a national priority under the government’s Pentagonal Strategy,” Atitya said, citing Sophalleth. 

He added that the environment ministry launched a campaign in October last year aiming to provide at least one million saplings for planting throughout the Kingdom per year, from 2024.

Atitya explained that the campaign will support the ministry’s Circular Strategy on Environment 2023-28, which is intended to create a “clean, green sustainable” Cambodia in order to fight climate change and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Prime Minister Hun Manet has ordered that the authorities pay close attention to the management and protection of the Kingdom’s natural resources, especially forests.

He reiterated the instructions during a March 15 Cabinet meeting, held to review key agenda and provide suggestions to the relevant parties.