Kampomg Chhnang provincial joint taskforces have detained four suspects and impounded agricultural equipment used to clear forest and wetland in Kampong Leng district.
Chin Sophat, the provincial chief of economic crime police, told The Post on Tuesday that the crackdown was part of a three-day operation to stamp out forestry crimes.
Sophat said many hectares of wetland in the district’s Chranouk commune had been intruded and cleared by farmers who intended to claim the land for private ownership.
On Sunday afternoon, he said, a joint task force consisting of 25 members from provincial police, and forestry and fisheries administration arrested the four suspects while they were clearing the protected wetland and seized three tractors.
“The suspects and evidence have been sent to the forestry and fisheries administration. They will send the case to court following legal procedures,” he said.
On the second day of the clampdown on Monday, the joint task forces also confiscated other equipment for clearing wetland while patrolling the Trapaing Tayot area about 3km from Chambok Prasad village in Teuk Phos district’s Kraing Skear commune.
“The authorities seized three types of machinery including one excavator, one bulldozer and a transporting vehicle, but the machinery operators managed to escape,” he said.
Teuk Phos district deputy police chief Kong Sam Ol, who also participated in the operation, told The Post on Tuesday the suspects used the machinery to encroach on around 40ha of forest land in the area.
Provincial Forestry Administration director Thong Vanvira Vuthy told The Post that the location where the encroachment took place had yet to be measured by competent authorities.
He said police were looking for the machinery and landowners as part of an ongoing investigation.
“I cannot confirm yet whether the forest land that was encroached on is located in a protected area. We cannot confirm its size either because it has not been measured. Now we are looking for the machinery and landowners,” he said.
A local officer who requested anonymity identified the machinery owner as Chrik Chreng, a 50-year-old resident from Kampong Chhnang town’s Phsar Chhnang commune. He said Chreng was hired to clear the forest and pave roads.
The officer claimed Chreng was hired by Oknha Lim Tea Leng, who he said had bought the land from Chum Sareth, a teacher from Teuk Phos district.
Chreng confirmed to The Post on Tuesday the machinery belonged to him and that he worked as an agent to clear forest land and pave roads.
He said the machinery was used to clear Oknha Tea Leng’s land, though he was not certain if the tycoon held a valid land title.
“I’m the owner of the machinery. I did not break the laws. Oknha Lim Tea Leng claimed he had bought the land from residents in the area. That’s why I did not ask permission from local authorities [before clearing the area],” he said.
Sareth, the teacher, told The Post on Tuesday he had purchased the 60ha land from 70 families since 2014.
Over the years, he said he had sold the land on to Okhna Tie Leng, but that he had yet to transfer his land ownership to the tycoon at either district or provincial level.
“There’s a proper title for the land, but since I sold it to Oknha Lim Tea Leng, it has been accredited only at village and commune level,” he said.
The tycoon declined to elaborate on Tuesday, saying he was taking care of his sick mother in Thailand.
He said he would prepare documentation to clarify the case with the authorities upon his return.