The Ministry of Environment has announced key measures to curb encroachment on community forests and protected areas, warning that a small minority of people are continuing to use using protected land for their personal gain. 

In a February 27 press release, it explained that a small number of opportunists are still instigating others to illegally fell trees and exploit and trespass upon protected areas, including community forests and designated forest land. 

The ministry stated that such actions constitute a serious breach of Article 26 of the Law on Protected Areas.

“Local communities and indigenous peoples who have signed an agreement with the ministry’s Natural Protection and Conservation Administration may not clear, cut or convert forest land within designated protected areas for agricultural use or individual ownership,” it said.

“Additionally, the agreement prohibits the sale, rental, mortgaging, division, exchange or transfer of protected land to any individual or legal entity,” it added.

To address this issue, the ministry urged the community committees of protected areas to fulfil their responsibilities to protect and preserve their community forests, as outlined in the ministry’s proclamation.

Community members are encouraged to reach out to the provincial environment department to request guidance and ensure any necessary legal action is taken. 

The ministry advised people involved with land crimes to cease any illegal activities immediately.

“Individuals who have encroached on community forest land within a protected area must unconditionally return the land and reforest the cleared area,” it said.

It also instructed the provincial environment department to work with sub-national administrations, relevant authorities and local communities to organise and support increased patrols by forest rangers, in order to prevent illegal land clearance or encroachment.

Phloek Phyrom, coordinator of the Indigenous People Network in Mondulkiri province, said she supports these measures but stresses the need for prior discussions with local communities, if they are to be successfully implemented.

“Consulting with ethnic minority communities that are already protecting natural resources would enhance the effectiveness of both development work and protected area management,” she explained.

According to the ministry, as of February this year, 193 protected area communities, encompassing 332,108ha, have been established across the country.

These protected areas encompass 73,149 households in 362 villages across 115 communes, within 15 provinces. Over 50 of these communities have been identified as potential ecotourism providers.

On February 28, ministry spokesperson Khvay Atiya urged both local and foreign partner organisations to contribute to the ministry’s work by planting trees. This initiative aims to expand forest cover, enhance people’s livelihoods and make substantial contributions to addressing climate change.

“I also urge all relevant authorities to work together to eliminate illegal encroachment in community forests and protected areas by prosecuting the perpetrators,” he said.