Thousands of square metres of state forest land in roughly 11ha of state reserve land in Koh Sdech village, Koh Sdech commune, Kiri Sakor district, Koh Kong province, were illegally encroached upon by unknown people. They have installed concrete and wooden pillars.

Provincial deputy governor Sok Sothy told The Post that officials had inspected the encroached area and discovered that about 20 new concrete and wooden pillars had been placed surrounding thousands of square metres of land.

“We told officials to remove the pillars and watch regularly to apprehend the perpetrators and send them to the provincial administration to file a case and take legal action. But so far, we haven’t been able to identify anyone,” Sothy said.

Sothy said that 11ha of land on Koh Sdach was state-owned land after the government provided sub-grants to the people there. This land has forest that could be saved to attract rain fall to supply the people living on this island.

Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Thong Chandara, stated that the occupiers of state land in Koh Sdach commune are not ordinary citizens, only people who have money and networks.

“Recently, there have been many illegal encroachments on state lands. As they have networks it’s easy for them to do. But when journalists and the community get information, they share it. Only then will there be action like on Koh Sdach,” said Chandara.

Chandara said that authorities knew almost all perpetrators who encroached on state land, but they seemed to not want to prosecute them. Systematic land encroachment would not happen from ordinary people or outsiders.

According to Articles 18 and 19 of the Land Law, any encroachment on public property and public entity and any conversion of state private property for personal ownership, will be punished by five million to 50 million riel or imprisonment from one to five years.

The Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said those who encroached on state-owned land or forest land would be charged with crimes related to theft of natural resources.