The Kampot provincial authorities will grant land titles for 2,500 plots covering 6,649ha in Preah Monivong Bokor National Park to local residents who applied for official occupation and usage permits, according to the provincial Department of Environment director Suy Thea.
Thea told The Post on December 21 that titles will be issued to 2,138 families who applied for the eligible plots after officials survey and demarcate the land.
A total of 3,386 families have submitted application forms for deeds to 3,913 plots amounting to 12,247ha. But after examining the application forms, the department’s working group decided to exclude 1,413 forest-land plots amounting to 5,598ha occupied by 1,248 families, Thea said.
He explained that, in principle, the government does not grant titles to forest-covered land. But in this case, the working group and relevant institutions will measure land which has been certified by commune authorities and which had been used for growing crops. The government will then officially grant the land to the applicants for their use to sustain their livelihoods.
“The environment department has collected the data of residents who submitted application forms to occupy cleared land and will report to the provincial governor and a representative of the environment ministry, including cases where we have excluded forest land.
“Applicants to occupy land in this park included villagers and other people living in the area as well as people from outside buying plantations,” Thea said.
He noted that the report was preliminary and a final decision on the matter was the purview of the provincial administration and the environment ministry. The report might be amended after provincial and national-level officials conduct land surveys and determine final allocation details.
Yun Phally, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, explained that the environment department had invited residents to submit applications to occupy land in the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park for the purpose of relying on it for their livelihoods. The department would present its report to national-level authorities, but officials had not yet gone to survey the land to be allocated, he said.
Phally noted that he had not heard of any protests from local residents with regard to this issue, but he was concerned about how widely information about the application process had been disseminated among them. It seemed that some people were still only vaguely aware the project, he said.
A Phnom Touch villager in Banteay Meas district’s Sdech Kong Khang Tbong commune said certain residents have lived in the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park area from the 1980s and 1990s until now. They had grown corn, potatoes and other cash crops.
He said authorities had recently told them to submit applications for official occupation and use of the land, but he had not yet seen any results come of it.
“In my practical observation, residents have been waiting for the authorities to go to measure land for which they submitted the application forms for practical livelihoods. If the government does not now follow through, residents might protest,” the villager said.
At a Cabinet meeting in July, Prime Minister Hun Sen instructed the ministries of Environment; Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to allocate land in conservation areas and other protected state land to residents who have been relying on it for their sustenance.