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Ministry warns state forest land grabber of legal action

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The administrative building of the Pursat provincial Department of Environment. PROVINCIAL ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT

Ministry warns state forest land grabber of legal action

The Ministry of Environment has warned of legal action against a woman and her Australian husband for illegally occupying and selling 50ha of land in the protected area of Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary in Pramuoy commune’s Stung Thmey village of Pursat province’s Veal Veng district.

In a press statement dated December 20, the provincial environment department said the woman, Oak Puthy, recently came forward with claims that she owned the land in question and also apparently sold it to another party, providing them with an illegitimate and illegal letter of land ownership transfer.

The ministry said the land belongs to the state and is designated as part of the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary established by a Royal decree dated November 1, 1993. The Royal decree assigned the land’s conservation and management to the environment ministry, which now contends that Puthy illegally purchased the sanctuary land.

The department said it had taken action to prevent encroachment on the wildlife sanctuary a number of times, including issuing orders to reclaim encroached land in July of 2009 and the environment ministry also issued a directive dated July 15, 2011, denying Puthy’s claims of ownership.

According to the department, the land claim made by Puthy was not in compliance with the 2001 Land Law or the 2008 Law on Protected Areas, which bans the use for private purposes of all land in sanctuaries.

The law states that the land can only be used if it is first privatised by the government through the social land concession mechanism or designated as a community area under Article 11 of Chapter 4 of the Law on Protected Areas.

“Under the law, Oak Puthy has no right to claim the land and sell or transfer it to any other party. The repeated attempts to occupy the state forest land by Puthy and her husband are illegal.

“She has even gone so far as to make threats against law enforcement officials in the past and her behaviour is totally lawless and insulting to public officials,” the department said.

Puthy could not be reached for comment on December 20.

Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary director Phan Sophearin told The Post on December 20 that he did not understand why Puthy claimed the state land as her own.

Citing some ministry officials familiar with the case, he said Puthy had originally asked to use the land for her cattle to graze on. The woman, he noted, first owned the cattle in common with local residents but later attempted to claim the land as her own.

“Eventually, the environment ministry wrote a letter to the provincial administration instructing them to take the land back. Then the provincial administration issued an order reclaiming the land as state property. By law, no individual has the right to own or sell state land,” he said.

Sophearin said the ministry and provincial department will take legal action against Puthy if she continues to claim ownership over state land and fails to follow to the ministry’s instructions.

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