Officials from the Koh Kong provincial administration have stated they have not yet apprehended the individuals responsible for illegally clearing approximately one hectare of state-owned forest in the Srae Ambel district. Environmentalists are pressing for more decisive action from the authorities to expedite the identification of the culprits.

Deputy provincial governor Sok Sothy stated on November 20 that expert officials and local authorities from the district, along with environmental specialists, have been tasked with investigating and identifying those involved in the illegal activity.

The probe was launched following reports that a group had deployed a bulldozer in Bak Angrot village in Srae Ambel’s Dang Peng commune to unlawfully convert state forest land into personal property.

“So far, we have been unable to pinpoint the suspects, as the machinery found on site was merely rented by the perpetrators,” he explained.

Sothy asserted that once the suspects are identified, regardless of their wealth or status, the provincial authorities would rigorously apply the law by initiating legal proceedings against them for the infringement on state land.

He noted that the area cleared by the perpetrators had been previously allocated and transferred to the provincial administration for the purpose of granting agricultural concessions to local residents. He stressed that the land clearance did not have any official authorisation.

Heng Kimhong, research and advocacy programme manager at the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), emphasised the urgency for authorities to act swiftly due to the severe impact of natural resource destruction and deforestation. He pointed out that such activities are likely to be known to local authorities.

“If the Koh Kong provincial administration is genuinely committed to identifying the offenders, I believe they will be located soon and held accountable under the law,” he stated.

He said that in addition to penalising those directly involved, the provincial and relevant authorities must enhance their collaborative efforts to apprehend the offenders and halt such destructive practices. 

He called for improved information dissemination to ensure prompt reporting of any harmful activities to both district and provincial administrations.

He added that not only those who committed the acts but also the local authorities should be held legally responsible, as their oversight contributed to the occurrence of these crimes within their jurisdiction.