Kampong Chhang provincial police have been investigating five people who are alleged to have secretly cleared and encroached on flooded forest land in separate locations covering nearly 10ha in Chhnok Trou commune’s Ses Slap village of Boribor district.
Provincial forestry administration director Ly La told The Post on August 5 that the encroachment on this flooded forest land had already progressed through the initial stage where the forest land has been cleared and replaced with rice fields.
“We suspect that the owners of the rice fields are the perpetrators. We are searching for them to send them to court. They will be charged with secretly clearing the land because so far [there are no suspects] other than them,” he said.
He added that the police have sent more than 30 people to court for encroaching on forest land, some of whom have been released on bail after the court found that they had committed their offence in order to feed themselves, while some others remain in jail.
Ly La explained that encroachment on this land will affect local fisheries because the location is used by fish to spawn after the water rises. But people are not aware of the ecological problems so they have always just cleared the land to farm crops and make a living.
Kampong Chhnang provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, Sam Chankea, said he supported the actions taken by the police.
However, he requested that tougher measures be taken against corrupt authorities who allowed the encroachment on flooded forest land because before they cleared it or brought in heavy machinery they had to go through the local authorities and thus they should be brought in for questioning, so everyone and not just ordinary people are held accountable before the law.
“District or commune authorities who are obligated to protect and care for [forest land] here have the power to intervene and even if those local authorities are unable to prevent it from happening they have a responsibility to report it to provincial authorities or a prosecutor.
“If they do not report it then they have effectively colluded to encroach on this flooded forest land. If we are going to prevent it, we have to bring those officials to justice so that other officials are deterred from doing this,” he said.