The director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation (NRWPO) requested the Ministry of Environment on Tuesday order an investigation into an alleged land grab in Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary in Oral district’s Trapaing Chor commune in Kampong Speu province.

NRWPO director Chea Hean said some people, in collusion with local officials and powerful individuals, used machinery to clear hundreds of hectares of land belonging to the wildlife sanctuary.

He said the Kampong Speu provincial administration had already issued a warrant to take back the land.

“My inspection revealed that powerful people used ordinary citizens to clear the land so they could sell it.

“The people involved in the land grab include village and commune authorities and the commune council who are looking for brokers to purchase the wildlife sanctuary land,” Hean said.

He said he had submitted a letter to the Ministry of Environment on Tuesday requesting its intervention. “I am also preparing a document containing all the stakeholders’ names which I will send to the Anti-Corruption Unit next week,” he said.

Kampong Speu provincial governor Vey Samnang said if his administration received a formal complaint, it would investigate and enforce the law.

“We always implement the law when cases are reported. Recently, four citizens’ houses were demolished by an organisation, but I cannot comment fully yet because I have only just ordered the police to inspect the site.

“However, if we consider ethics and morality, the organisation should not have demolished the four houses,” Samnang said, adding however that not all reports about land grabs are true.

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said: “Protected land is state public land, and the use or allocation of land within protected areas must be approved by the government.

“Therefore, no one has the right to clear, sell or certify possession of land in protected areas.”

He warned that anyone who is illegally occupying land must stop clearing it and cease any construction work immediately. Otherwise, they would be held accountable under the law.

Pheaktra said that every day, the Ministry of Environment, particularly its 1,220 environmental rangers, carry out the task of protecting 7.5 million hectares of protected land.

But he said the number of patrols would be increased to prevent unlawful land grabbing, illegal hunting and the planting of crops on state land.

Pheaktra said at least 20 people had been detained recently in Preah Sihanouk, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Koh Kong and Kampong Speu provinces.