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‘Illegal’ Pursat settlers given ultimatum

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More than 30 families alleged to have illegally settled on protected land in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary were ordered by Pursat’s Departmentof Environment to vacate the area by Monday. Photo supplied

‘Illegal’ Pursat settlers given ultimatum

Pursat provincial authorities have given an ultimatum to 31 families who illegally settled on 100ha of land in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Veal Veng district’s Stung Thmey village.

According to a provincial Department of Environment notice dated November 8 and obtained by The Post, the settlers have until Monday to vacate the land before authorities take further action.

The notice said the 31 families have occupied the land illegally, cleared forest and planted markers in a community natural area protected by a royal decree and managed by the Ministry of Environment.

“The 31 families must demolish cow and goat sheds, cottages, 35 houses, fence poles and crops . . . [On Monday], the provincial Department of Environment will take action to demolish everything owned or erected by the encroachers.

“The authorities will not be held responsible for any loss or damage. If the families are stubborn or protest violently, they will be punished according to the law,” the notice said.

It said the department had instructed the families several times to demolish the structures and move.

Provincial Department of Environment director Pan Morakat said: “They are yet to demolish the settlement and there has been no response from them.

“We have been explaining the law regarding land grabbing and clearing forest land in protected areas since the first group of people encroached into the area. The authorities have informed them many times, but they wouldn’t listen.”

Morakat said the affected legitimate community consisted of seven families the authorities had allowed to join together to protect the Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary.

Since 2017, he said, a total of 31 migrant families from Battambang, Pailin, Prey Veng and other provinces had grabbed land and cleared forest on more than 100ha.

“We have in the past arrested six intermediaries. We sent them to court because they claimed to be managers of the area. We have had arrest warrants from the courts but they continued to lead people to grab land,” he said.

The Post was to contact any of the families accused.

Sam Chankea, rights group Adhoc’s coordinator in Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces, said on Thursday that he supported the move by the authorities if the families had come to live in a protected area.

But he urged the authorities to solve the matter amicably if possible and carry out a detailed investigation to ascertain if the land grabbers were homeless.

Chankea said that if they were really poor, the authorities should allocate them land or find a location that did not affect the protected area.

“The authorities should set aside a social and economic land concession for them. If they are forced out of the area without having a place to live, it will seriously affect their livelihoods and result in a violation of human rights,” he said.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra has previously said that to prevent land grabbing in protected areas, the ministry is working with relevant ministries and sub-national authorities to take strict legal action against offenders.

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