The names of four Kampong Chhnang villagers were sent to the provincial court on Thursday for further legal action. The villagers are accused of involvement in clearing some 3ha of wetland in Koh Tamov village, in Boribor district’s Koki commune.
The action was taken after relevant officials and the community investigated the land grab for private ownership on Tuesday at Koh Langor and Chrok Snor Lake.
Provincial fisheries administration director Ly La said the four villagers hailed from Melom village, in Melom commune, but logged the flooded forest in neighbouring Koki commune.
“There are many kinds of fisheries crimes. When caught red-handed, they are arrested on the spot. But in this case, the four had cleared the wetland and escaped.
“We investigated and identified the culprits, which is why we submitted their names to the court. It will summon them for questioning,” La said.
According to him, the suspects used machetes, axes and saws to log the flooded forest sometime last week, but they had not used any machinery to clear it. From the on site examination, La said they had cleared flooded trees in three locations totalling 3ha.
“The logged sites are behind the rice fields of the villagers who plant the grain during the dry season,” he said.
Rights group Adhoc’s provincial coordinator Sam Chanke supported the fishery administration’s measures to hold the four accountable. He said some people exploited the agricultural land because they were unaware that it belonged to the state.
“The fisheries administration should demarcate the boundary of the state’s wetland. Otherwise, the people will get confused between the land they could additionally own and the land they could not,” he said.
He suggested that the authority should educate villagers in case they unintentionally log the trees. Villagers, he said, should be advised to replant them and restore the forest. Legal action should not be the first recourse, he said.
Additionally, Chanke said the fisheries administration should register public land under its management to prevent such land grabbing.