The Mondulkiri provincial administration has annulled the ownership of 990ha in Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary after finding that a senior justice ministry official had encroached on a conservation zone.
The provincial hall said Seng Sovannara – the Ministry of Justice’s under-secretary of state and a member of the national-level working group for Mondulkiri province – had lied to local authorities in obtaining paperwork to claim the land for private ownership.
A letter issued by provincial governor Svay Sam Eang and seen by The Post on Wednesday said Sovannara’s occupation of the 990ha at the sanctuary in Koh Nhek district’s Or Buonloeu commune was not legal and overlapped with a protected area.
“The land in question overlapped with a conservation zone belonging to the state and is under the management of the Department of Environment. So the administration rules the paperwork null and void,” said the letter.
The administration is also inspecting another zone in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in O’Raing district on which Sovannara had allegedly encroached.
Provincial administration officials who asked not to be named said Sovannara’s paperwork was signed and stamped in January by local authorities – from the village chief to the provincial governor.
The officials said Sovannara had used the stamped documentation to claim 292ha in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune and another 990ha in the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in Koh Nhek district.
Reached by The Post on Wednesday, provincial hall spokesperson Sok Sera acknowledged that the governor had signed and stamped the paperwork ceding the 990ha land to Sovannara.
However, he said Sovannara had lied to the local authorities in his proposal for the land which he claimed would be for communal use.
“Now, we are also inspecting another zone in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. We will also revoke his ownership of the [292ha] there. The commune authorities reported to us that the land did not affect anything. But after an inspection, we found that the land overlapped with a conservation area,” he said.
Sera said because Sovannara had accepted the annulment and had not cleared or sold the land, the provincial hall would not file a complaint to the court. Commune officials, he said, also were not being subject to administrative disciplinary action.
“The village and commune authorities signed the paperwork for Sovannara’s land ownership in the conservation zone because they were not aware of the law.
“They turned a deaf ear when we went to educate them about the law. We’ve always told them to be careful in issuing land ownership paperwork,” he said.
Sera noted that the authorities would also probe villagers’ allegation that Sovannara had claimed another 472ha of communal land in Sen Monorom commune for private ownership. The villagers claimed the Interior Ministry had ceded the land to them in 2015.
On August 13, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng announced the removal of Sovannara from the national-level working group for Mondulkiri.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said Sovannara’s alleged encroachment on state conservation zone was an individual matter.
Sovannara could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.