A mixed working group is due to inspect a site of illegal coastal reclamation in Sre Ambel district’s Chroy Svay commune in Koh Kong, provincial deputy governor Sok Sothy said on Wednesday.
The issue of land grabbing did not just occur recently, Sothy noted, without specifying the size of the area alleged to have been cleared without an authorisation.
“It has been happening over time since the previous mandate [of the government], but we do not blame anyone. [Provincial governor] Phouthong Mithona has appointed a working group, but since most of the members are currently busy, the inspection to monitor the conditions in the field will be conducted next week,” he said.
Furthermore, Sothy could not identify the “perpetrators” behind the land clearing activity in the area that the locals regularly call “Puy Chin Tong”.
Mean Prom Mony, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc confirmed that a case of mangrove clearing around the confluence had taken place in Chroy Svay commune.
Prom Mony alleged that Koh Kong authorities “had never punished the crafty land grabbers in accordance with the law”.
“So far, [Adhoc] has not seen the conspiring individuals or groups who cleared state land being brought to justice. The law exists, but its enforcement is lacking,” Mony said, calling on the authorities to enforce the laws “properly and transparently”.
However, Koh Kong Provincial Department of Environment director Morn Phalla defended the individual or group that cleared the territory.
“I cannot confirm whether the area belongs to a certain someone or group, [but] I just know that they hold titles to the land,” Phalla said.
A villager who lives in the area, Tith Sothea, alleged that the mangrove territory was filled by one Huor Hab, “someone with a senior position in the provincial administration”.
He said villagers used to fish in the area in the past until access to the reclamation site was blocked recently and 10 people were put in place to guard the site.
“Villagers have no knowledge of the issue and are afraid of powerful people. That’s why we stayed quiet and no one asked questions. They initially built a concrete wall, then they filled the water [body] with sand in an area which obviously spans more than 10ha,” he said.