The authorities are at a loss over who had cleared and demarcated more than 50ha of mangrove forests in Village I, Tumnob Rolok commune, Stung Hav district, in Preah Sihanouk province.
Kim Hak, who heads the community protecting the flooded Tumnob Rolok forest and the chief of Village I, told The Post on Wednesday that after the land price in the province kept rising, unidentified people went to the area to clear the mangrove forests.
“Mangrove land was illegally cleared, while a working team from the fisheries authority and the mangrove protection community visited the land and removed poles marking its boundary that spanned between 50 and 60ha."
“We are investigating as we are unsure who planted the poles made of concrete and wood in the area where the mangrove forest was cleared,” he said.
Hak said the people who were responsible might be from Preah Sihanouk or Phnom Penh. What is certain, he said, is that they were not from his community.
“People who cleared the forest land planted the poles to mark its boundary, while there are others trying to clear the mangrove forest reserve because its price in Preah Sihanouk province increased by a lot,” he said.
After fisheries authorities inspected the site to remove and destroy the poles, it launched an investigation to seek out and apprehend the intruders.
“We are investigating to identify the offenders so that legal action can be taken against them. The fisheries administration has prepared the case documents and forwarded it [to higher authorities],” Hak said.
Stung Hav deputy governor Tep Mony said: “I led law enforcement officers to destroy the poles that the culprits had planted to mark the boundaries.
“In the past, people planted poles and grew coconut trees in the illegally cleared mangrove land,” he said.
Sun Sophat, who represented the community in Preah Sihanouk province told The Post that many ill-intended people cleared protected land and seized it as personal property, but the provincial authority failed to act in such matters.
“Now, it is happening not only in reserved areas, community areas, and Stung Hav district’s mangrove forests, but the illegal activities have expanded to the Ream National Park."
“Protected forests in Stung Hav and the Ream National Park were illegally cleared, while no one said anything. They not only cleared the forest but used excavators to clear the land too,” he said.
Sophat said heavy equipment was also used to gather the fallen trees. “I believe the clearing work was carried out by wealthy people who hired workers to flatten the mangrove forest,” he said.