More than 20,000 families have registered to apply for land titles in designated conservation and protected regions in Koh Kong province, according to deputy provincial governor Sok Sothy.
The families’ applications followed recommendations by Prime Minister Hun Sen during a Cabinet meeting on July 3 last year instructing the relevant ministries – Environment; Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction; and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – to make official allocations of land to people who have actually been living and relying on it in several protected areas.
“We will conduct individual case studies for each registered family. Results will be determined by actual circumstances. The principle asserted by the head of government . . . is to prevent people from lacking land on which to live.
“We will make allocations according to whether people have actually resided on the land for some years rather than having recently cleared it,” Sothy said.
He explained that the land allocation registry was preliminary data which would be amended according to findings, and titles would also be provided to people who had lived on and utilised it for many years even if they had not registered their names on formal requests.
Provincial Department of Environment director Morn Phalla said the ministries have made efforts to expedite the technical work for submission to the Council of Ministers for a final decision to issue a royal decree or sub-decree officially allocating the land.
“The main purpose of this programme is to resolve land disputes for people and ensure their proper rights to control the land,” he said.
For the whole of last year, Phalla said provincial environment department rangers had made 1,083 patrols to address and prevent any illegal exploitation natural resources. There were 733 total cases recorded with 83 having been referred to the court.
Of those, 69 were cases where only evidence was sent to court with no suspects, and the other 14 were cases where suspects were referred to court along with evidence. Thirty-one cases resulted in fines, and 119 cases were closed with individuals signing cease and desist orders.
“The most difficult situations our rangers face when dealing with encroachment in protected areas are instances when people gather in groups to protest against enforcement of the laws.
“At times, our officials have sustained injuries or damage to equipment while conducting their work. However, our officials have remained patient and professional without retaliating,” he said.
According to Phalla, crimes of encroachment on protected forests occur in almost all districts of the province. At present, there are only 110 rangers in the entire province responsible for patrolling nearly one million hectares of protected land.
Thong Chandara, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, observed a common theme among ongoing land dispute cases, describing situations in which rich and powerful people hire others as proxies to encroach on state forest land in order to file for land allocation titles.
“We have recently found instances of fences erected on state land, as well as people having poured soil into canals and flooded mangroves. We are unsure if the instigators of these actions are locals or if they are coming from outside the province,” he said.
According to Chandara, he has received requests for intervention from people in more than 10 ongoing cases. Previously, he said, provincial authorities had arrested some people with regard to minor land disputes, but there had not yet been arrests of perpetrators in major cases of encroachment on state forest land or the illegal clearing or filling-in of lakes, streams and mangroves.