The Kampong Chhnang provincial court on Saturday ordered the detention of two suspects charged with illegal forest clearing in Rolea Ba’ier district, said the deputy provincial prosecutor Long Sitha.
“The investigating judge ordered them to be detained. I do not remember which article of the law, but it concerned the preservation of forest land,” Sitha said.
Provincial agriculture, forestry and fisheries department director Ngin Hun told The Post on Sunday that he had sent the two suspects to provincial court on Friday and charged them with “clearing protected forest land without permission” after they and three tractors were found attempting to clear land in Bra Snoeb commune’s Chor village.
The two detained suspects were arrested after clearing the entrance to the protected forest in Chor village, he said.
However, villagers had informed the authorities before the suspects could clear any of the forest itself. Hun said the authority is seeking other involved suspects.
“We did not issue a licence to [clear the forest] to anybody because that area is preserved for community use. This is a case of ill-intentioned people illegally trying to clear the land."
“The authority arrested two tractor drivers and sent them to court. The tractors were temporarily sent to the Forestry Administration at Rolea Ba’ier district,” he said.
A villager who lives in Bra Snoeb commune, who wished not to be identified, told The Post that the community forest, more than 500ha in area, was created between 2006 and 2007. Of those, 174ha were actual woodland, the villager said.
He alleged that the land grabbers had colluded with a head of the community forest and of the local authority in order to sell the land to a Chinese company.
The villager said that the group claimed a new forest had been created to replace the one in Chor village, but there was no evidence it was the case.
“Some villagers saw the head of the community and commune chief conspiring with each other. I don’t know what they were doing but, later on, three tractors came and cleared the land,” he said.
According to Cambodian forest law, anyone convicted of harvesting forest products without a permit, or misusing such a permit is subject to one to five years in prison and a fine of 10 million to 100 million riel ($2,500 to $25,000).
Officials directly or indirectly allowing activities contrary to the Forest Law face the same penalty.