Authorities in Koh Kong province are on the hunt for people who illegally planted fruit trees at Botum Sakor National Park in Botum Sakor district.
Provincial governor Mithona Phouthorng told The Post on November 17 she had ordered an investigation into the illegal planting of jackfruit and coconut trees in the park after receiving complaints from residents.
“We want to know about this case. I’ve sent officials to investigate after receiving a written report and I will continue until we find the real target [perpetrators] before taking legal action,” she said.
Provincial deputy governor Ouk Pheaktra said park rangers had removed the jackfruit trees, while officials are working to identify those responsible for the planting.
Citing rangers, he said the trees were apparently planted at night.
He said the land where the coconut and jackfruit trees were planted were a far distance from each other and the land was the location where environmental officials used to plant luxury trees and sweet bamboo trees.
“We have not taken any action yet. We have to continue investigating at night because those people plant the trees at night. Although our park rangers take turns monitoring and inspecting the land in the Botum Sakor National Park, it is too large for us to monitor from all angles,” he said.
Pheaktra said some people see the land as vacant and plant trees there even though they know it is a national park for conservation and even after authorities explained to them many times.
Pheaktra refuted allegations that forest rangers had secretly planted the fruit trees. He said officers had instead strived to patrol and remove plants that were secretly planted.
He said he would send a detailed report to governor Phouthorng.
Provincial Department of Environment director Morm Phalla said people planted coconut and jackfruit trees in the park in an attempt to occupy the land, but were unable to do so as environment officials regularly patrolled and removed the plants.
“Our officers have patrolled but could not arrest the perpetrators because they only commit the act at night,” he said, warning that the authorities will eventually arrest the offenders.
According to Phalla, the park spans 17,000ha. It covers some villages, community land and protected land with resources such as forests, wildlife and many other biodiversities.
Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Thong Chan Dara said the unauthorised tree planting was not the work of locals.
“It is not the local people who sneak in and plant the trees. It’s the rich or powerful people who have connections with the local authorities and environment officials. Ordinary people dare not do it because environment officials have been inspecting and patrolling the park regularly. So when that story breaks, they accuse the people,” he said.