Koh Kong provincial authorities said they would not approve the sale and purchase of land in protected areas without proper paperwork.

They vowed to weed out land corruption following a July 3 Facebook post by Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for the return of land to locals living in protected areas.

In an announcement on Tuesday, officials said land transactions are taking place in protected areas around villages and communes, especially in Botum Sakor, Kiri Sakor and Thma Bang districts.

It said land documents would not be valid with just a thumbprint and without official stamps.

“Buying and selling land with just thumbprints between buyers and sellers without being checked by the authorities and district land officials is illegal.

“Officials in Koh Kong at all levels do not acknowledge the buying and selling of land that is not legal,” said the announcement.

Koh Kong provincial deputy governor and spokesman Sok Sothy told The Post on Wednesday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had warned citizens and corrupt merchants against conspiring to buy and sell land without informing the relevant authorities.

“In the future, people might claim that land in national parks belongs to them. They then sell it to another person without it being legally acknowledged,” he said.

Sothy said citizens and merchants should be careful or they will regret it. He said Hun Sen’s statement on giving land to citizens is only for citizens living there, and not for merchants who want to buy land from residents without valid titles.

Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, Thorng Chandara, said there are many land disputes in the province between companies and citizens or between individuals.

“Some citizens have settled on the land a long time ago. Some have been there since 1990, but authorities have not issued titles to them,” he said.

Koh Kong environment officials, he said, have also been accused of refusing to issue land certificates to citizens whose land was measured and validated by youth volunteers.

In June 2012, the prime minister launched a land-titling scheme to be implemented by youth volunteers. Its mandate was to cover areas where families live without proper legal documentation on State land.

“To achieve transparency, teams must investigate and verify data of forest land that citizens are occupying. There must be cooperation from relevant parties, including civil society groups,” he said.

Koh Kong Department of Environment director Morm Phalla said on Wednesday that national and provincial working groups from the Ministry of Environment are preparing joint teams to implement Hun Sen’s recommendations.

“Joint teams are working in collaboration with local officials to investigate and verify data of forest land occupied by citizens,” he said.

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