At least 2 hectares of flooded mangrove forest in Koh Kong’s Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary have been filled in with sand from illegal dredging nearby, with local authorities and an NGO yesterday claiming an unidentified “powerful” tycoon was behind the environmental crimes.
Oul Rann, director of the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, said environmental officials earlier this week inspected the site. Although there was no active sand dredging at the time of the inspection, officials found traces of the crimes.
“We arrived at the site and we saw no machines, but we saw some traces of sand pipes,” he said. “They dredged sand for filling in close to a crab-raising field.”
Rann and Kay Krong, Stung Veng commune chief, both claimed they didn’t know the identity of the person behind the illegal activities, but were searching for those responsible.
Huot Heng, deputy commune chief of Stung Veng commune, said a province working group also inspected the location on Sunday after obtaining a local media report.
Heng said about 2 hectares of mangrove had been filled in with sand, but he wasn’t able to estimate the total land size. He claimed the area had been sold multiple times, but the current owner does not live in the commune.
He said about three days ago, he met one of the former owners of the land, Siv Chou, who told him she had sold the land to an “unknown oknha”, or tycoon. It’s unclear how she initially obtained the land.
Hak Bora, head of the Khemarak Phumin town land management office, said officials would not “dare” issue any land titles for that land because it’s in the coastal area.
“It is coastal land, so who dares to [issue a land title]?” he asked. “The persons who operated the sand dredging are very brave, but I have never known them.”
In 2016, the Council of Ministers issued a directive ordering officials in the coastal areas to annul land titles that had been granted for 300 hectares of filled-in mangrove swamps.
Neither Morm Phalla, director of the provincial Department of Environment, nor Pich Siyon, director of the provincial Department of Mines and Energy, could be reached for comment.
Yos Monarith, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, declined to comment.
Sreng Hong, deputy governor in Koh Kong, said he received a letter from the provincial Department of Mines and Energy informing provincial authorities of a crime related to sand dredging, but declined to further comment on the case.
Nheab Sam Oeun, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, claimed he had also been told the land belonged to a tycoon, and said he had seen huge sand dredging equipment.
“The oknha, who is a powerful person, grabbed it with his accomplice,” he alleged.
Sok Sokhom, director of the Cambodia National Research Organization, a local NGO monitoring mangroves in coastal areas, said there are still many cases of mangrove land grabs, including seven cases in Koh Kong, alone, which he plans to investigate next week.