The Fisheries Administration’s (FiA) Kampong Chhnang provincial cantonment is on the hunt for those who devastated 50ha of flooded forest of Tonle Sap’s Zone 3 at an area called Yeay Pheach, in Chranouk commune, Kampong Leng district.

Ly La, head of the Kampong Chhnang cantonment, said on July 11 that the wrongdoers had evaded capture by the time officers reached the site in Zone 3, following a tip-off about deforestation.

“Despite our best efforts to apprehend the culprits on site, they managed to escape. Forested terrains make it difficult to keep up with them, as we can’t use motorbikes and have to resort to boats and foot. The search is ongoing,” La said.

In response to the illegal clearing, the FiA is planning to map out the cleared lands, providing visual proof of the extent of the damage. This evidence will be crucial to press charges and ensure legal action if any activity occurs on these cleared lands.

La mentioned that during their operations, the team discovered and impounded three motorcycles left at the site. The heavier machinery used for the clearing, however, was taken away before the authorities arrived. These motorcycles were later claimed by individuals who insisted they were just locals who had left their bikes at the site while they fished and hunted snails.

“We found the motorcycles at the scene and initially suspected their involvement. But local residents claimed they were merely gathering snails near the area and returned to find their motorcycles missing because we had taken them. As such, we believe these impounded vehicles have no connection to the illegal clearing,” La clarified.

Sam Chankea, coordinator for right group ADHOC in Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces, stressed the importance of collaboration between officials and local communities to monitor and report illegal activities.

Chankea warned that without trust and communication, preventing such crimes would be challenging given the limited resources and manpower for regular patrols.

“We’ve seen the government’s efforts to tackle these crimes in the past. Therefore, we urge both professional officers and local authorities to continue working together to prevent further occurrences,” Chankea asserted.

According to Ung Try, FiA’s deputy director, over 60,000ha of flooded forest in three regions across six provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake have been seized.

Nearly 15,000 households have voluntarily returned the land to the state, leading to the reforestation of bamboo, palm trees, and other native species.

A significant number of trees have been planted on the reclaimed lands, including a plethora of bamboo plants, numerous palm trees, a vast amount of palm nuts, and a substantial variety of other tree species.

Kampong Chhnang province has seen the most significant reforestation effort, with a substantial quantity of trees being planted in its restored semi-aquatic regions.