The Koh Kong Provincial Administration is probing a news report that a private company had colluded with the local authorities to buy 40ha in the Botum Sakor National Park.

Provincial hall spokesman Sok Sothy said on Sunday that the administration was only aware of one land clearing case at the park in Botum Sakor district’s Andong Teuk commune. The encroachment, he said, had since been halted.

He said the provincial hall had not received a detailed report from the local authorities but had assigned officials to investigate the claims.

“Environment officials are working on the case to find out if there are any intruders as claimed. If we find any offenders, we will file a complaint to court as we have done in the past,” he said.

Provincial Department of Environment director Morn Phalla said he was unaware of the case.

“Even if the [40ha] land has been bought and sold, there can’t be any development on it because the land in the national park is state property and under the management of environmental authorities. It’s located in a conservation zone,” he said.

However, Botum Sakor district governor Tou Savuth said a private company had bought more than 40ha from families settling in the park. He denied that local authorities had colluded in the transaction.

“Villagers moved to occupy land [in the park] since before I took over as district governor. The company bought the land from them with documentation to prove the transaction,” he said.

After buying the land, he said, the company had submitted the documentation to the commune and district authorities for certification.

A contract covering the 40ha land sale which was seen by The Post on Sunday said a resident from Kampot province, Im Chan Sorthun, agreed to sell the 416,865sqm plot in Andong Teuk commune to Ly Chy Chhay, the representative of Future Land Investment, in November last year.

The contract said Chan Sorthun had acquired the land from villagers before the sale.

The contract was certified by Tou Savuth, the district governor, Pov Chanthorn, the head of the district cadastral office, and Andong Teuk commune chief Kheang Ying.

A villager from Andong Teuk commune told The Post on Sunday on condition of anonymity that the three had colluded with traders and the company to claim the land for private ownership.

“I have never seen the authorities inspect the area or prohibit people from occupying the land. They have turned a blind eye and let ill-intended people grab state land,” he said.

Bey Vanny, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, attributed increasing land prices to the encroachment on state land in the province.

“The buying and selling of land in the national park is illegal although it is certified by the local authorities,” he said.

Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said last month that encroachment on, occupation and selling of land in national parks or wildlife sanctuaries is illegal.