A former Cambodia National Rescue Party commune chief and his father-in-law were put into pretrial detention on Tuesday in Preah Sihanouk province for allegedly encroaching state forestland.
Environmental rangers and military forces in the province’s Kbal Chhay area arrested Ouk Chetny and his father-in-law, Sam Sun, 58, on Monday. They were sent to the provincial court the following day.
Lim Bunheng, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court prosecutor, said Chetny and Sun were charged with logging, burning and clearing the forestland for private ownership.
Sam Pheak, Chetny’s wife, said her husband and father were arrested by soldiers while they were clearing forestland for farming and cultivation, which, she claimed, her family had bought last year from a local resident.
She said the arrests were unfair because many families were clearing the forestland for planting crops at the time as well, but the soldiers only detained them.
“If they find them guilty, the authorities should issue a public warning or create contracts to stop people from committing the crime again as the land has no sign that says it belongs to the state. I even bought the land from other villagers,” Pheak said.
The provincial Environment Department director, Samut Sothearith, said that any individual who violates a sub-decree involving protected areas will be punished. “The forestland there is a protected area of the state and our officials regularly conduct patrols. Therefore, we have to enforce the law if there is a violation,” he said.
Chieb Sotheary, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the organisation is monitoring the case.
“I have not studied the land matter yet, but the court was too hasty in its decision to detain them. It should free them on bail and launch a more thorough investigation because there are many irregularities in the case,” Sotheary claimed.