A technical working group in Koh Kong province is inspecting state land in Sre Ambel district’s Chroy Svay and Boeung Preav communes on suspicions of illegal land grabbing in the biodiversity corridor and multi-use areas.

Provincial administration spokesman Sok Sothy said the working group had surveyed and demarcated its boundaries.

Sothy said if illegal land grabbing is discovered the group will search for the identities of the suspects and take administrative measures or build a case against them to send to the provincial court.

The inspection took place on April 3 with the participation of officials from the environment deparment, land management department and the cadastral office as well as local authorities and the Koh Kong provincial court prosecutor.

According to Sothy, the government had allocated plots of land in these locations to local residents but the working group suspects that illegal land clearance and occupation has recently occurred in the area.

He said some had reportedly been trying to occupy state land illegally there while the provincial authorities were occupied in the fight against Covid-19. They had allegedly filled-in creeks and mangrove forests with soil and cleared forest land in protected conservation areas.

“Now, our working group is surveying the land on which residents are living or relying on for their livelihoods to see how much of it is land from the Dong Peng multi-use area and the Trapeang Preus community area so that we can follow up with administrative measures,” he said.

Provincial environment department director Hun Marady said the technical working group will compile a report on the situation and send it to the provincial administration for verification and a decision.

“They are still working on the case. We have not come to any conclusions yet,” he said.

Marady added that officials were waiting for documents from Sre Ambel district because only the local authorities could determine whether there is any illegal land grabbing taking place.

However, district governor Hong Bros said there was no illegal land clearance at the location that the officials had been inspecting and that villagers there relied on the land for their livelihoods because the area had long been allocated to them.

“Villagers tilled some of their fields in order to plant new crops there. Because it was in an area located near the Dong Peng multi-use area, the authorities were suspicious of the activity and thought that there might be illegal land clearance or illegal occupation,” he said.