The Banteay Srei district authority in Siem Reap province ordered some 1,000 families to dismantle hundreds of huts they had illegally built to grab state land near Phnom Kulen, in Tbeng Lech village and Srah Khvav village in Tbeng commune.
District governor Khim Finan said on Wednesday that the authority issued a letter to 948 families on October 25, ordering them to immediately stop their illegal activities and demolish the huts within seven days.
“The land issue at the place is ongoing, but in the last few months, they had grabbed more land and constructed hundreds of additional huts.
“Each hut was built with just four small pillars and a few pieces of zinc. People cannot live in such huts because they just built it to grab state land,” he said.
Finan said the authority did not want to take legal action and dismantle the huts but instead ordered them to demolish the huts themselves.
Some people were aware of the announcement, while some were not. Therefore, he said the authority decided to give them another three or four days to carry out the dismantling, otherwise, it will do the job for them next week.
“The authority wishes to solve the issue peacefully and does not want to dismantle them. But if we demolish the huts, there will likely be a confrontation even though the people are wrong. But removing the huts will help prevent further forest crime from occurring,” Finan said.
The grabbed land is partly under the jurisdiction of the forestry administration and partly belongs to the Phnom Kulen National Park.
“If we don’t stop the land grab, it will happen more often. Phnom Kulen is a world heritage site and if we don’t’ prevent land grabs from happening, in the next few months the problem will reach the entrance to Phnom Kulen,” he said.
He noted that some of the land grabbers were locals, while others were land activists from other areas.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said some land grabs were carried out under incitement from land brokers who instructed the people to grow bananas, mango, jackfruits, cashews and corn.
They cleared the land by burning the forest and demarcated it to claim ownership, alleging that they had been working the land for a long time.
“To prevent land grabs at protected areas, the ministry has worked with the relevant authorities to take serious action against such illegal activities,” he said.
Chan Chamroeun, the provincial monitor for right groups Adhoc, said he is investigating the matter.
“I just got information about the authority’s order to demolish the huts and we don’t know if the people will adhere to the instruction or not,” Chamroeun said.