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Land clearing accusations from 2008 under scrutiny

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The forest land in question is located in Oral district. Photo supplied

Land clearing accusations from 2008 under scrutiny

The Ministry of Environment has sent a team to investigate land disputes at two locations covering over 100ha.

The disputes involve former deputy director of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary Chhun Chhea Heng, who years ago accused Chea Hean – the director at the time of an anti-corruption NGO – of encroaching on forest land that was sold in 2008, following Hean’s levelling of similar accusations against him.

According to a letter dated April 2 and signed by environment ministry undersecretary of state Prum Sophy, the investigating team consists of four officials led by the head of the inspection and law enforcement department, Ear Sokha.

They will conduct an investigation until April 9 on site in Oral district of Kampong Speu province.

“We request that all relevant ministries, units and local authorities cooperate with and facilitate matters for the team being sent on this mission to ensure that it is successful,” the letter said.

Reached on April 5, former sanctuary director Chhea Heng – who is currently working as an official at the Kampong Speu provincial environment department – declined to comment.

Chea Hean was jailed in 2008 for 34 months and 17 days after being accused of encroachment and then sued for defamation by Chhea Heng and other officials in response to Hean’s prior accusations of similar wrongdoing by Heng and other officials.

Hean denied the accusations at the time and petitioned repeatedly to the higher authorities for intervention in his case.

Hean told The Post on April 5 that he had heard about the investigation and the arrival of the investigating team in Kampong Speu province. He said they questioned Heng and other people who were involved on April 5 and that the team will question him on April 8 and then go to examine the site the next day.

“I hope that the inspection team will thoroughly investigate and make a clear report to the minister and correctly interpret the existing rules. It’s not difficult to identify the perpetrators in this case.

“I hope that the minister will reclaim the land in these two places as state property, on which I have been [falsely] accused of encroaching. The official who made up this case and the accusations against me must be punished in accordance with the law,” Hean said.

Hean also added that the property of corrupt officials should be confiscated, especially in this case.

According to Hean, the forest land in question is located near O’Ancha River in Choam village of Tasal 1 commune and at Chrork Teak village of Trapaing Chor commune, both in Oral district.

Environment ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to comment on the case.

“Let expert officials finish their investigative work first,” he said.

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