In the first five months of this year, Phnom Aural Wildlife Sanctuary rangers demolished 22 cottages and reclaimed 299ha as state land.
Sanctuary head Hul Mara told The Post on May 20 that from January 1 to May 20, rangers were constantly finding illegally built structures and land encroachment.
“Nobody was arrested and sent to court. We are constantly cracking down on offences because when a cottage was demolished in one place, offenders would move to another location,” he said.
Chea Hean, director of the environmental watchdog Anti-Corruption, Natural Resource Protection and Civil Rights Protection, said the sanctuary and Kirirom National Park suffered daily deforestation and land grabbing although rangers regularly patrolled the areas. Offenders always changed locations to disguise themselves as poor people.
“This is not encroachment by poor people. These cottages are built by traders who used the poor as a front. At first sight, the cottages look like they were built by poor people. In fact, they are not – traders grab the land for sale,” he said.
Hean urged the authorities to enforce the law more strictly.
“If we enforce the law and arrest offenders, the crimes will end. But the authorities and specialists remain lenient, only making them sign a letter promising not to repeat their offence and then set them free. This would only embolden offenders,” he said.
In response, Mara explained that specialists could not arrest offenders because they had fled before officers arrived at the scene.
“The offenders do not dare come near us. When we go to a place, they flee, leaving the cottages behind. We burn the structures and reclaim the land for the state,” he said.