Minister of Environment Say Sam Al urged the public to prevent land disputes and contribute to forest and wildlife conservation in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary.

Sam Al made the call during a public forum that discussed land dispute cases in the sanctuary. The forum was held earlier this week at the Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary office in Rovieng district’s Romny commune of Preah Vihear province.

He asked the people to switch from hunting wild animals, which is a criminal offence, to raising livestock such as buffaloes, cows, goats and lambs.

He said these animals can be raised easily within a shorter time on community land.

“We want to see people earn higher income so they can have better livelihoods. When people get richer, they will be more active in helping to protect and conserve [the Kingdom’s] natural resources,” he said.

A community representative who joined the forum requested a land swap because they had been relying on community land for their livelihoods. Some of these villagers lived close to the forest, where wild animals came and destroyed their crops.

Sam Al proposed a land swap so that the affected people will get a plot of land located within the reach of public services, hospitals, schools and pagodas for their convenience.

He also instructed the relevant officials to quickly determine the sanctuary’s boundaries and strengthen the education for adults and children. He also encouraged the planting of agricultural tree species such as the acacia.

Lor Chan, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, acknowledged that in the past some people had encroached on land to claim ownership and hunted animals in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary for their day-to-day living.

“The sanctuary was managed by American conservationist Ben Davis. But some people also own land there,” he said.

However, Chan said if Sam Al solves the case and takes strict measures against newcomers who encroach on the land, it would be welcome news. But if he takes action against people who have long lived on and owned the land, it would be unjust, he said.

Chan supported the minister’s call for villagers to raise domestic animals instead of illegal poaching.

Davis could not be reached for comment on January 6. But, on December 28 last year, he said people were trying to encroach on land for personal ownership.

He said they were mostly people who migrated from other provinces.

Davis observed that the encroachers are marking land boundaries using tree logs sprayed with paint to specify the borders. He is also concerned with the number of land boundary poles in the Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Most people who have grabbed land in the sanctuary looked for buyers to sell the occupied land to because they don’t plan to live there [permanently].

“They cannot grow crops such as cashew on the land,” he said, adding that offenders had encroached on more than 50ha in the protected area.

He said this had impacted the forest and wildlife in the sanctuary.

The Phnom Tnout-Phnom Pok Wildlife Sanctuary was established under sub-decree No 143 dated August 31, 2017.

The sanctuary covers 42,097ha across Preah Vihear province’s Sangkum Thmei and Kulen districts and Siem Reap province’s Chi Kraeng district.