The Mondulkiri Provincial Administration told local authorities to prevent encroachment on state land after an area reserved for a new airport project in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune and some parts of the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary were illegally cleared.

Deputy provincial governor Cheak Mengheang said a joint force inspected the locations after it came to light that residents in the commune had been encouraged to grow illegal marijuana there. The airport project covers a total area of 600ha.

“The provincial governor has ordered that border markers be installed at the boundary of the airport construction development project and Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.

O’Raing village chief Ung Serey Vuthy that in the Keo Seima sanctuary, some villagers and newcomers had encroached on the protected forest land since the beginning of March when police forces were occupied in the fight against Covid-19.

“Newcomers came to buy land from some villagers. After selling it, some of them started living on the community forest land and in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary and built houses there,” he said.

Such cases have occurred almost everywhere in the sanctuary, prompting park rangers to step up patrols to halt the activity, according to sanctuary head Prum Vibol Ratanak.

He said some villagers had only been briefly detained and educated and ordered to pay fines in accordance with the laws on the protection of natural resources, while others have been sent to court for prosecution.

“Currently, our rangers have increased their patrols to prevent the illegal expansion of agricultural land found in many places,” he said.

He said most of the encroachment in the sanctuary happens in Keo Seima district’s Sre Preah and Sre Khtum communes and O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune.

Ratanak said his team had been working on demarcating the sanctuary’s land boundaries since 2018 with 115 border posts having been planted to date.